9/11 Twenty Years Ago

Below is the Commandant’s message marking the 20th Anniversary of this attack, that so changed the Nation and the Coast Guard.

Frankly, I do not see that the Coast Guard is really prepared to counter a well planned terrorist attack conducted from the sea. A tiny fraction of the money spent in Afghanistan and Iraq could close this gap. We need to be better armed and more capable of stopping an attack, regardless of the size of the attacking vessel, using forces regularly assigned in each port.

Let the Coast Guard response be, “Never again, Not on our watch.”

united states coast guard

R 101030Z SEP 21
ALCOAST 324/21
SSIC 5700
1. On the morning of 11 September 2001, nineteen terrorists took
control of four cross-country commercial aircraft, weaponizing the
planes and steering them into the World Trade Center Twin Towers
in New York and the Pentagon in Washington, D.C. On the fourth
plane, believed to be headed toward the U.S. Capitol or the White
House, a brave band of passengers and crew attempted to regain
control and downed the plane near Shanksville, Pennsylvania in the
2. Living up to our motto of Semper Paratus, Coast Guard personnel
sprang into action to save lives and provided security for that
day’s survivors.
3. Almost immediately following the attacks, all bridges and
tunnels in Manhattan were closed leaving hundreds of thousands of
people stranded, with no way to return safely home. Coast Guard
personnel directed the safe evacuation of more than 500,000 people
from the island with the assistance of hundreds of local ferries,
as well as commercial and private craft. This, the largest maritime
evacuation in recorded history, was conducted in less than 8 hours.
4. In and around Ground Zero, after the collapse of the World Trade
Center Towers, the Coast Guard’s Atlantic Strike Team worked in
close cooperation with the Environmental Protection Agency to
monitor air quality for first responders in the rescue and recovery
5. At the Pentagon, the Navy Command Center sustained a direct hit
from the crash of Flight #77, resulting in the loss of 42
personnel. From a secondary office at Coast Guard Headquarters,
Coast Guard RADM Jeffrey Hathaway, the Director of the Navy Command
Center, fortuitously away from the Pentagon that morning,
established personal security detachments to protect Senior Navy
Leadership in the aftermath of the attack, and supported the
planning and policies of the coming war on terrorism.
6. By October 2001, U.S. Military forces had deployed to
Afghanistan to execute Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF). Coast
Guard personnel served in support of OEF through units such as the
Redeployment Assistance and Inspection Detachment (RAID Team),
inspecting shipments of hazardous materials and facilitating
container movements in support of the Global War on Terror.
7. In support of Operation Noble Eagle, thousands of Coast Guard
Active Duty, Reservists, and Auxiliarists mobilized to assist the
direct defense of the continental U.S., protecting military outload
operations, ensuring the safety of maritime commerce and port
facility operations, search and rescue, and other vital operations.
8. The attacks of September 11th made it clear that our national
security starts well beyond our borders. In response, President
George W. Bush signed the Maritime Transportation Security Act
(MTSA) of 2002 to protect the Nation’s ports and waterways from
terrorist attacks. The U.S. Coast Guard proceeded on the greatest
organizational transformation since World War II and expanded our
capabilities and mission sets. This included the establishment of
Maritime Security Response Teams (MSRT) and Maritime Safety and
Security Teams (MSST). By March 1, 2003, the Department of Homeland
Security was established with the U.S. Coast Guard serving as the
lead federal agency for maritime homeland security. Our efforts
throughout the U.S. Marine Transportation System (MTS) and across
the globe continue to actively counter and deter terrorism threats
in the maritime domain.
9. As an organization, we have made tectonic changes these past
twenty years and continually strive to refine and improve our
operations and mission support delivery, but we must never become
complacent. As technology rapidly advances and threatscapes become
increasingly complex, we too must advance and adapt. We, the U.S.
Coast Guard, are the eyes and ears for safety, security, and
environmental stewardship on our federal waters, and purveyors of
our national maritime interests across the globe. Keep your eyes
and ears wide open; prepare and adapt always; be ready and never
forget the lessons we learned on September 11th.
10. Thank you for your service, and Semper Paratus!
11. ADM K. L. Schultz, Commandant (CCG), sends.
12. Internet release is authorized.

“The Coast Guard and American Maritime: A Vital Post-9/11 Partnership” –Seapower

NEW YORK, New York (Sept. 11)–A Coast Guard rescue team from Sandy Hook, NJ, races to the scene of the World Trade Center terrorist attack. USCG photo by PA2 Tom Sperduto

Seapower brings us a short post from Former Commandant James Loy and president and CEO of The American Waterways Operators, Jennifer Carpenter.

It is a reminder of the response to 9/11, a different justification for the Jones Act, and a warning about the potential of cyber attack.

“The Pentagon isn’t the only one with special operators. Here are the 5 most elite forces outside the Defense Department” –Business Insider

Business Insider brings us a look at five “Special Operations” forces employed by non-DOD organizations.

  • FBI’s Hostage Rescue Team
  • Coast Guard’s Maritime Security Response Teams
  • DEA’s Special Response Teams
  • Dept. of Energy’s Special Response Teams
  • CIA’s Special Operations Group

What I noticed in the descriptions of these groups, is that the Coast Guard’s qualification process is the longest, “almost 18 months,” while the other four groups seem to rely heavily on recruiting former military special operations force members. DEA’s course is only two weeks in addition to prior training.

“This Is The Elite Unit That Raided The Tanker Threatened By Stowaways Off The UK Coast” –The Drive


The Drive reports on the recapture of the 42,000-gross-tonnage Liberian-registered tanker Nave Andromeda.

While this incident did not involve terrorists that might have had weapons capable of bringing down a helicopter, in this and a previous incident the Royal Navy’s Special Boat Service used not one, but four helicopters to land a team on the ship. Apparently the team, probably consisting of 16 members, was transported on two Merlin helicopters while Wildcat helicopters provided over-watch.

Merlin MK3 Helicopters ( 846 Naval Air Sqdn) Commando Helicopter Force (pics)

Explosive Boats –In Yemen, and a Look Back

Naval News reports on the continued threat of remotely controlled explosive motor boats to vessel traffic around Yemen. We have talked about this before, here, here, and here. Historically explosive boats have had some success even against heavily armed opponents.

Heavy Cruiser, HMS York, run aground by her own crew to prevent her sinking, after being struck by two explosive motor boats (Italian: barchini esplosivi) of the Italian Regia Marina assault Flotilla, Decima Flottiglia MAS, Souda Bay, Crete, 26 March, 1941.

There was, of course, the suicide attack on USS Cole.

The semi-submersible ship M/V Blue Marlin carrying damaged USS Cole. 31 October 2000. U.S. Navy photo by PH2 Leland Comer.

As I have noted before, remote controlled attacks could be planned and carried out relatively easily using readily available remote control devices and remote viewing systems in wide spread use.

Will we see these threats emerge in the US, or perhaps in the Persian Gulf where they might be encountered by PATFORSWA?

Any number of platforms might be used as the basis for this type of threat from shrimp boats to jet skis. It would be advantageous to the attacker, if they could blend in with local traffic.

Off shore, in SW Asia, the Houthi typically control the attack boat from another boat, within line of sight radio range of the remote controlled boat, but in a US harbor it might be controlled from shore.

If the threat is against a moving target, soft kill systems designed to counter Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) should be equally effective, but they might not work against a threat targeting a fixed point like a moored vessel. Hard kill systems might work as a defense, but it raises the question, how close do you want to get, since the operator could presumably detonate the charge at any time? Success with a 7.62mm machine gun might require a lucky shot to take out a critical component.

Explosive motor boat of the type used by the Israeli Navy in the Independence War, in the Clandestine Immigration and Naval Museum, Haifa, Israel. Possibly an Italian MTM (Motoscafo da Turismo Modificato). Photo from Wikipedia Commons. User:Bukvoed.

How to handle this sort of threat is squarely in the Coast Guard’s “Ports, Waterways, and Coastal Security” mission wheelhouse. Hopefully we are putting some thought into it.

“Militias: US sailors in Bahrain ‘legitimate targets’ after Soleimani slaying” –Navy Times

The current crisis in SW Asia of course brings to mind the Coast Guard members in that area, PATFORSWA, based in Bahrain.

NavyTimes has an assessment of the risks that Iranian backed militias in Bahrain might retaliate against US service members in Bahrain or their families.

Assignment to PATFORSWA is an unaccompanied tour, but apparently members are berthed off base in leased housing.

Generally the assessment is that Bahrain’s internal security forces are very good, but there are militants there and that 100% security is impossible.

Apparently the head of a Bahrain Shia militia was one of the victims of the US attack that killed Soleimani, so they might have additional motivation for an attack.

If any of our PATFORSWA personnel are looking in on the blog. Take care.

Maritime Domain Awareness–Indian Style

Display of maritime traffic provided by AIS. Only vessels equipped with AIS are displayed, which excludes most fishing boats, pleasure craft, inland navigation and vessels less than 300 tons. Location: Dover Straits/English Channel. Author: fr:User:Pline

NavyRecognition provides some information on what India is doing to maintain Maritime Domain Awareness.

Since the 2008 terrorist attack on Mumbai, they have made a strong effort to monitor marine traffic. An earlier discussion and links to related topics here.

Anatomy of a Drone Boat, a Water-Borne Improvised Explosive Device (WBIED)–Legion Magazine

Click enlarge

Legion Magazine gives us a technical analysis of a Water-Borne Improvised Explosive Device of the type used by Houthi rebels to attack Saudi lead coalition forces and merchant ships in the vicinity of the Bab-el-Mandeb Straits.

We have talked about these before, here and here. They are apparently radio controlled, 10 meter (33 foot), twin outboard powered boats, built in the UAE and donated to the Yemeni Navy for Coast Guard duties.  As we learned earlier, the warhead was a 1000 pound shaped charge from a P-15 (Styx) missile.

The analysis shows construction of the circuit that would cause the explosive to detonate, how the throttle was worked, and speculated on the steering.

Really, making one of these is too simple. It is not impossible we will see something like this in the US. In the radio control hobby, we would call this a two channel control system, controlling only steering and throttle. It doesn’t get much simpler than that. As I speculated earlier, there was a video link from the WBIED to the operator. In addition, there was also a link to pass GPS information to the operator.

The analysis unfortunately does not tell us the frequencies used to control the boat or provide video from the boat, or to provide the GPS information from the boat to the control station. That information would give us an idea of the effective range of the system and provide the basis for electronic countermeasures. Presumably the information is available to those who have a need to know. There is a good chance these explosive boats are controlled from a vessel near by.

Thanks to Lee for bringing this to my attention. 

“Not Your Mother’s Coast Guard: How the Service Can Come into Its Own Against 21st Century Threats”–Modern War Institute at West Point

MSRT anti-terrorism training

The Modern War Institute at West Point has an excellent exploration of what the new National Security Strategy could mean to the Coast Guard, written by Cdr. Kevin Duffy, USCG. It says everything I had hoped to say about this new direction and more.

“With the release of the 2017 National Security Strategy, however, the Coast Guard has been presented with an opportunity to maximize its value to a government that appears to be taking a different view on which activities and capabilities should be emphasized in the national security realm.

“…As the NSS indicates that such activities in support of its homeland and border security goals will receive “advanced technology [and] the employment of additional personnel,” smart adjustments by the Coast Guard could well bolster the case for force expansion and increased interagency support in order to continue and expand its efforts.

“…Under this same homeland umbrella, the NSS likewise stresses the importance of transportation security and domestic resilience—both areas in which the Coast Guard can embrace leadership roles.”

“…In terms of domestic resilience, the Coast Guard has expansive disaster response and incident command capabilities and responsibilities for maritime incidents, and would be a natural leader in working with industry and state and local partners to enhance capabilities in the NSS’s identified areas of risk management, planning, preparedness, and information sharing.

“… The fact that this NSS explicitly acknowledges the links between terrorist networks and criminal, drug, and “other irregular threats” should not go unnoticed: it gives the Coast Guard the opportunity to emphasize its unique capabilities, partnerships, and successes in this realm. References to threats and operations “below the level of conventional military conflict” or “below the threshold of military conflict” appear four times in this strategy. If that’s a niche that the government now wants to emphasize, the Coast Guard needs to be in the vanguard of associated efforts.

“…Specifically, the idea of a squadron of Coast Guard patrol boats dedicated to operations in Central America has been favored by Coast Guard leadership in recent years. Perhaps the initiatives that this NSS envisions as being necessary to disrupt criminal networks (and, by extension, illicit actors including terrorists) will provide the needed justification to make it a reality.

“…There has perhaps never been a better opportunity for the Coast Guard to assert itself in terms of its national security roles, whether in protecting the nation’s borders or operating in the cyber realm, in protecting maritime infrastructure or safeguarding the domestic energy sector, in leading the effort to make ports resilient or disrupting criminal and terrorist networks throughout the Western Hemisphere. With this in mind, the service should intelligently respond to the 2017 NSS by reforming and articulating the impact of current efforts and refocusing or innovating in areas that it did not previously emphasize. In this way, the Coast Guard can usher in an era of more robust and effective operations in the national security sphere, making the most of its unique nature in order to protect the country on a host of important fronts.

I have picked out on a small part of this post. Please take a look.

It seems, after a rocky start, the Coast Guard has gotten the President’s attention, and I don’t think he will listen blindly to GAO’s preconceptions of the Coast Guard’s place in the National Security apparatus. It truly may be time to take the Homeland Security missions seriously. 

Remote Control Boat and Drone Attacks–USNI

US Naval Institute news service brings us a report of another unconventional attack by remote controlled boats, this time on a commercial tanker. We have seen this type of attack before, but apparently this was “at least the sixth time Houthis used remote-controlled boats to attack shipping and oil assets in the Red Sea, according to a tally of Saudi and Gulf region news reports.”

This report is buried in a report about a drone attack on Russian bases in Syria, but there are some interesting details.

The post reports an examination of a captured remote controlled boat,

The 30-foot long patrol boat, originally manufactured by the UAE-based company Al Fattan Ship Industry, was one of at least 60 donated by the UAE Coast Guard to the Yemeni Navy before the civil war kicked off in 2015.
The boat’s control unit was connected to a remotely operated video camera and a Garmin GPS antenna, suggesting the operator was able to stream live footage of the boat’s progress during the attack, and was fitted with a Soviet-manufactured P-15 Termit anti-ship missile and shaped explosive charge.

The P-15 Termit is another designation for the Styx, an early Soviet anti-ship missile. It is 5.8 m (19 ft) long and weighs 2,580 kg (5,690 lb).

SS-N-2 Styx/P-15 Termit

In countering the sUAV attack, the Russians used both hard and soft kill. The Pantsir-S reportedly use to shoot down seven of the drones is a short range, combined gun and missile, anti-air system. Six more were brought down by electronic counter-measures.

According to the report, Putin said, “These aerial vehicles were disguised – I would like to stress that – as homemade. But it is obvious that some high-tech equipment was used,” Perhaps Putin is not aware, or simply refuses to acknowledge, how sophisticated hobby drone auto-pilots have become. All you need is Google Earth for targeting and you can set in way-points and altitudes and have it fly to any point within the range of the aircraft.