A Conversation with Admiral Karl Schultz, Commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard–CSIS

CSIS and the United States Naval Institute (USNI) conduct an interview with Admiral Karl L. Schultz, the 26th Commandant of the United States Coast Guard, conducted 1 August, 2018.

Below I will attempt to outline the conversation, noting the topics and in some cases providing a comment.

The first question is about immigration. Coast Guard is the “away game.” minimizing the factors that push immigration to the US.

The Commandant does not expect a substantial increase in help from the Navy, because they are already heavily tasked, but would welcome any additional help.

06:30 Talk about Inland fleet. Congressional support is evident. $25M provided so far.

9:20 House Appropriations Committee decision to divert $750M from the icebreaker program to fund “the Wall” in their markup of the FY2019 budget bill. The Commandant is “guardedly optimistic”

11:30 Human capital readiness? Operating account has been flat and effectively we have lost 10% in purchasing power. Want to increase leadership training.

16:30 Support for combatant commanders.

18:00 Capacity building and partnering. Detachments working on host nation platforms.

21:00 Defense Force planning–Not going back to the MARDEZ model.

22:30 Situation in Venezuela/Preparation for dealing with mass migration.

24:30 Arctic forums–Need to project our sovereignty

29:00 UNCLOS

30:00 Maritime Domain Awareness (MDA)

32:30 Tracking cargo as an element of MDA

34:00 Cyber

36:15 High Latitude engagement/partnerships.

39:30 Perhaps the icebreaker should be the “Polar Security Cutter?”

40:00 International ice patrol, still an important mission.

41:00 CG role in response to Chinese aggressiveness in the South China Sea. In discussion with Indo-Pacific Command. Will see more CG presence there.

44:00 Offshore Patrol Cutter (OPC)–on track

46:30 Border issue — passed on that

48:00 Small satellites–we are looking at them

49:00 African Capacity building/cooperation. May send an MEC.

51:30 Tech modernization. Looking at it more holistically.

Other Coverage:

This interview prompted a couple of notable posts.

SeaPower’s coverage of the discussion is here. They focused on the growth of demands on the Coast Guard.

Military.com reported on the possibility of a greater Coast Guard role in South East Asia and capacity building in Africa. It probably should be noted that the title, “Coast Guard Could Send Ship to Pacific to ‘Temper Chinese Influence’,”is a bit deceptive in that the Commandant’s remark about tempering Chinese Influence was in regard to Oceania, the islands of the Central and Western Pacific. The Commandant was quoted in the Seapower post, “In the Oceania region, there are places where helping them protect their interests, tempering that Chinese influence, is absolutely essential.”

Switchblade “Loitering Munition”/Puma–Switchblade Sensor to Shooter Capability

Puma-Switchblade Sensor to Shooter Capability

AeroVironment recently conducted a demonstration for the Navy, of how its systems might counter swarming Fast Inshore Attack Craft (FIAC). If the combination of systems works as advertised, it may be exactly what the Coast Guard needs to counter the small, fast, highly maneuverable end of the terrorists surface vessel attack threat spectrum. It is also small enough that it might fit on something as small as a Response Boat-Medium (RB-M). It would certainly fit on a WPB.

It appears to be precise and have minimal chance of collateral damage. It also has a man in the loop, allowing an attack to be aborted or redirected. It is also supposed to have a capability against other drones, presumably smaller, slower ones at low altitude. The combination consists of a Puma UAS to provide target detection, classification, and targeting, and the Switchblade “Lethal Miniature Aerial Missile System” (LMAMS). Switchblade is a missile but a very different one. It is an electric-powered, propeller driven, suicide drone. 

The Coast Guard has already tested the Puma on USCGC Healey, and USCGC Chock. The Canadians have chosen it for their Coastal Defense Ships. It has an endurance of up to three hours.

The Puma and Switchblade both use the same control system. 

The Switchblade, seen being launched in the photo below, is very small. It is less than two feet long and weighs less than six pounds. The manufacturer’s data sheet is here.

Switchblade loitering munition

They have introduced a six-pack launch system. It weighs only 160 pounds fully loaded and is only 28″ wide, 34″ deep, and 28″ tall.

AeroVironment six cell Switchblade Launcher

Where might we use these? While these systems might become ubiquitous, if they work as advertised, there are a couple of units that stand out as having the most immediate need.

Since the system is portable, it might be assigned to deployable teams.

I would be very curious about the Navy’s view of the demonstration.

 

Fletcher/APKWS, a Pocket Missile System, Made in America

Fletcher Launcher for Advanced Precision Kill Weapon System (APKWS)–Arnold Defense showcased its new rocket launcher for non-air applications at SOFEX 2018 on an Oshkosh S-ATV. (Jen Judson/Staff)

Defense News brings us another report of the new four round surface launch system for the BAE Advanced Precision Kill Weapon System (APKWS) made by Arnold Defense of St. Louis, MO.

I did a post on this system earlier, Guided Weapons Made Easy, but I had almost forgotten about it, and that would be a shame, because this may be exactly what we need give our small units both precision and a much heavier punch.

APKWS is an upgrade to the long serving (and very numerous) 70 mm Hydra rocket, that adds passive laser homing. Reportedly BAE is working up to providing 20,000 APKWS kits a year.

Current range for this system is about eight kilometer, probably enough for us, but there is also mention of an improved motor to extend the range. Reportedly the seeker is good for up to 14 km, so a motor upgrade might push the range out that far.

The launcher seems to have similar footprint to a .50 caliber machine gun. The empty launcher weighs only 30 pounds and the individual missiles 32 pounds. If it can fit on a light land vehicle, its likely it will fit on many of the Coast Guard’s smaller patrol assets.

 

From the LCS Mission Modules, What We Might Want, What We Might Need

The US Naval Institute News Service has provided access to the second “Annual Report to Congress for the Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) Mission Module Program.” Some of these systems should be of interest to the Coast Guard, either as regular equipment for peacetime law enforcement and counterterrorism missions, for temporary use, as in the case of a naval mining incident, or as wartime add-ons if the Coast Guard is mobilized for a major conflict.

Keep in mind, the procurement cost of these systems would presumably come out the Navy budget.

Mine Countermeasures Mission Package

The Mine Countermeasures (MCM) Mission Packages (MP) has already been addressed. 24 are planned including nine to be built for “Vessels of Opportunity.” These nine extra packages probably meet any peacetime augmentation requirement and provide a reserve for mobilization. Testing is expected to continue through FY 2022. Production is expected to continue well into the future as less than half the packages will have been delivered by FY2023.

ASW Mission Packages for NSCs and OPCs

An earlier post discussed the possibility of using mission modules and Navy reservist to augment large cutters. In a protracted conflict against a near peer naval power like Russia or China, our large patrol ships are most probably going to be needed to perform open ocean ASW escort duties.

Only ten ASW Mission Packages are planned. Initial Operational Capability (IOC) is expected in FY 2019, but testing will continue through 2020. The Multi-Function Array is already a fielded system. Deliveries are expected to begin in FY2021 at a rate of two systems per year. If that rate is continued, the ten planned systems will be complete in 2025.

At an estimated cost of less than $20M the ASW Mission Package is the least expensive of the three types of Mission Packages. Adding this system as a mobilization capability or perhaps even as a peacetime capability to 35 or more large cutters would provide a higher return on investment than just about any other Naval program.

It might even help us locate semi-submersibles.

Vertical launch Hellfire

As I have noted before, the Coast Guard has a potential need to be capable of countering terrorist efforts to use a wide spectrum of vessels to make an attack. These craft range between small, fast, highly maneuverable boats on one extreme, to large ocean going vessels at the other. Our ability to counter these threats must be widely available, quickly effective, and have both a probability of success approaching 100% and do so with minimal danger to innocents who may be in the vicinity. Guns do not meet these criteria.

Hellfire missile have the potential to meet these criteria, at least against the lower half of the threat spectrum, and, using more than one round, might have a degree of success even against the largest vessels.

Apparently the SSMM Longbow Hellfire testing is going well, with 20 out of 24 successful engagements, and there’s a software fix for the root cause of the 4 failures.

ATLANTIC OCEAN—A Longbow Hellfire Missile is fired from Littoral Combat Ship USS Detroit (LCS 7) on Feb. 28, 2017 as part of a structural test firing of the Surface to Surface Missile Module (SSMM). The test marked the first vertical missile launched from an LCS and the first launch of a missile from the SSMM from an LCS. (Photo by U.S. Navy)

A recent US Naval Institute News Service report quoted LCS Mission Modules Program Manager Capt. Ted Zobel “all of our mission packages…are finishing up development, proceeding into test, and then from test into production and ultimately deployment.”

“…surface-to-surface missile module (SSMM) will add a Longbow Hellfire missile to increase the lethality of the LCS. Testing begins this month on USS Milwaukee (LCS-5) and will move to USS Detroit (LCS-7) over the summer. Testing should wrap up by December, Zobel said, with Detroit planning to bring the SSMM with it on its maiden deployment about a year from now. Written testimony from the Navy at a March 6 House Armed Services Committee hearing states that IOC is planned for Fiscal Year 2019.”

The Surface to Surface Mission Module (SSMM) planned for the Littoral Combat Ship, seen above, can store and launch up to 24 missiles. 24 missiles would weigh about 2,500 pounds. As a very rough estimate, Its foot print appears to be about 9×12 feet (late note–a little photo analysis suggest the three mission module positions on each LCS are about 15-16′ square), probably not too large for an NSC, OPC, or icebreaker, but probably too large for the Webber class WPCs where I really think we really need the capability. They are after all, much more likely to be in the right place, at the right time. For them we probably need a smaller system.

In the video above, beginning at time 2m58s there is a model of a 12 meter unmanned surface vessel mounting a four tube Hellfire vertical launch system. Knowing that the Hellfire is only 7 inches in diameter and 64 inches long, it appears this installation would have a footprint of no more than 6×8 feet and probably would be no more than seven feet high. It seems likely we could find a place for one or two of these on each Webber class and at least one when we build the replacements for the 87 footers.

I have often seen missiles compared unfavorably to guns, based on the cost of the projectiles, but cost of providing a system like Hellfire pales in comparison to the cost of a medium caliber gun, its ammunition allowance, and the maintenance, training, and technicians required to keep it operational. Compared to the guns we have used in the past:

  • Maximum range of almost 9,000 yards is less than the maximum range of the 5″/38, 76mm, or 57mm, but it is very near the effective range of these medium caliber weapons. This range is likely more than enough to remain outside the effective range of improvised weapons installations that might be used in a terrorist attack.
  • Effective range is more than three times greater than that of the 25mm Mk38 mod2/3
  • Warhead appears to be more effective than even the 5″ rounds.
  • Every round will likely be a hit.
  • Those hits will come very quickly.
  • It may be possible to accurately target specific vulnerable areas on the target.
  • They require only minimal training and maintenance compared to medium caliber guns.
  • If the target is within range, its only real disadvantage is the limited number of rounds.

While I have never seen it claimed official, I have seen reports that Hellfire can be used against slower aircraft such as helicopters and UAVs.

 These small missiles could allow our patrol vessels to hit like much bigger vessels.

30 mm Mk46 Gun Mission Module (GMM)

Gun Mission Module by Northrop Grumman

The “Gun Mission Module” (GMM) could be one way to arm the icebreakers relatively quickly when needed, while allowing the option of removing the weapons before going to Antarctica if desired.

Production of these units is quickly running its course, and if we want to use these on the icebreakers, it may be desirable to have our needs added to the production schedule before the production is shut down. The last two are expected to be delivered in FY2020.

How important this is will depend on the Coast Guard’s intentions and the alternatives.

Setting up the installations in the same format as found on the LCSs means improvements or alternative systems developed to LCS systems could be easily incorporated in the icebreakers as well.

On the other hand, the included 30mm Mk46 gun weapon system is not limited to the LCSs. It is or will be mounted on the three Zumwalt DDG-1000 class destroyers, 13 San Antonio (LPD-17) class, and probably 13 LX(R)/LPD-17 Flight II class still to be built, about 58 mounts in addition to the 20 planned for the LCSs.

It doesn’t look like it would be too difficult to remove or re-install just the gun mount (seen below) if that would meet our needs. It would of course require a dedicated space, permanent installation of supporting equipment, and a way to seal the opening for the mount long term when the mount is removed.

Although it is not as effective as the Mk46 mount, because of the smaller 25 mm gun currently used, the Mk38 Mod2/3 is also an alternative, and has the advantage of already being in the use with the Coast Guard. It is even more widely used, “As of 2016, 307 MK 38 MOD 2 systems have been delivered. There are 50 MK 38 MOD 3s on contract. The total POR (program of record–Chuck) is for 517 systems.”

Still the 25mm gun is markedly inferior to the 30mm in that its effective range is considerably less and the individual projectiles are far less potent. The Mk46 mount also has many more rounds on the mount compared to the Mk38 mod2/3. Upgrading the Mk38s to mount 30mm guns would address much of the current inferiority.

The inferiority of the Mk38 would also be much less of a concern if the Icebreaker had an additional, more powerful anti-surface weapon system, like the Hellfire Surface to Surface Missile Module or Anti-Surface Cruise Missiles. These might be useful if it is ever necessary to provide Naval Surface Fire Support (NSFS) in the Arctic or Antarctic.

“Restructure the Coast Guard Reserves into Support Roles”–USNI

The US Naval Institute Blog has a post recommending a restructuring of the Coast Guard Reserve, written by LCdr. Daniel L. Tavenier, USCG. His opening paragraph,

The time has come to examine and consider restructuring the role of Coast Guard Reserves within the service. Currently, there is not enough time for reservists to adequately serve operational roles unless they were active duty for at least two years following accession. Reservists have brought much to the table as far as their civilian skill sets and experience go, but we cannot pretend they are able to achieve proficiency in certifications to the level of an active duty member. There has been a role for reservists to operate, but history has proven those instances are few and far between. As budgets shrink, the entire reserve program needs to be significantly modernized. This includes expanding the maritime security and safety teams (MSSTs) role to cover overseas missions and decommissioning port security units (PSU) that are staffed with 130 reserves and only six active duty members. PSU staffing models are not set up to meet the high-level, tactical certifications required for outside continental U.S. (OCONUS) operations. MSSTs have undoubtedly filled overseas duties at much less expenditure.”

Along the way he also recommends that we “Ditch the MAW” (Mounted Automatic Weapon), i.e., remove the M-240 machinegun from the small boats that do Ports, Waterways, and Coastal Security (PWCS).

This is way outside my wheelhouse, so I am going to leave evaluation and comments to the readers. If you have strong feelings about this, you might want to comment on the original USNI blog post. Duplicate comments are of course also welcomed here.

Metal Shark to Build Navy’s New PB(X)

Navy’s new PB(X) to be built by Metal Shark

MarineLog reports the award of a contract for up to 50 new 40 foot (12 meter) patrol boats for the Navy.

Subject to annual appropriations, the Navy intends to replace approximately 100 to 160 of its existing 25-foot and 34-foot CRF (Coastal Riverine Forces –Chuck) patrol boats with the larger and more modern PB(X) platform over the next fifteen years.
The Navy has placed an initial, immediate order for eleven of the new vessels. Under the terms of the award, potentially worth over $90 million, Metal Shark will build up to 50 PB(X) vessels for the Navy, along with trailers, spares and training packages, and technical support.

Narcosubmarines: Nexus of Terrorism and Drug Trafficking?–CIMSEC


There is decent post on CIMSEC looking at the possibility of terrorists using the vehicles developed by drug smugglers to carry out an attack. The author also does a pretty good job of explaining why smugglers might be unlikely to cooperate. There is also a worthwhile bibliography associated with the post that appears to have been an academic treatise.