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

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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.

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.

ISIS Threat to Russian Ships in Turkish Straits

File:Latrans-Turkey location Marmara Region.svg

Illustration: Turkey with the Straits and Sea of Marmara area in red, by “The Emirr.” Dardanelles to West of the Sea of Marmara and Bosphorus to the East. 

Following from the German Navy blog, Marine Forum, 16 May,

“After Turkish intelligence learned of Islamic State plans for attacks on Russian warships from ashore, Turkish authorities have beefed up security along the Turkish Straits and augmented escorts by Turkish Coast Guard.”

A number of the Russian Navy transits carry supplies to the Syrian Government Forces and Russian forces operating in Syria.

“AMO and Coast Guard Missions are not Duplicative”–Office of Inspector General

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Many of us have wondered about the apparent duplication of effort by the Coast Guard and Customs and Border Protection’s (CBP) Air and Marine Operations (AMO). Apparently the The U.S. House of Representatives, Committee on Homeland Security, Subcommittee on Border and Maritime Security had the same concern and asked for an audit by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Office of the Inspector General (OIG). This resulted in a report, “AMO and Coast Guard Maritime Missions Are Not Duplicative, But Could Improve with Better Coordination (pdf).”

Guess there is no suspense in what their findings were, but I find the methodology and conclusions less than complete and satisfying.

The recommendations of the audit were:

Recommendation #1: We recommend that the DHS Under Secretary for Management reestablish an oversight mechanism at the DHS level to ensure that AMO and the Coast Guard coordinate operations.

Recommendation #2: We recommend that the Coast Guard Commandant, CBP Commissioner, and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Director revise the Maritime Operations Coordination Plan to include requirements for coordination and information sharing at all levels, especially the local level.

So the response was equally predictable–form a committee.

I’m sorry, but my BS meter is off the scale. The alarm went off first, when they consistently called the territorial sea, “customs waters” lending a presumption that this is a Customs job.

While their conclusion may ultimately prove correct, they essentially failed to look at the most significant area of overlap–Maritime Patrol Aircraft. The audit concentrated exclusively on drug enforcement and failed to consider Alien Migrant Interdiction Operations (AMIO). And they failed to answer the most basic questions.

While coordination is always assumed to be a “good thing,” the only real reason you should want two agencies performing the same function would indicate less coordination, not more.

There is no doubt AMO does useful work, that is not the point. The question is, what is the most effective and economical way to distribute resources. Should DHS be working toward a different distribution of tasking and resources?

Unanswered questions:

Why does Customs need boats? The Revenue Cutter Service was Customs’ boat service. Why doesn’t the Coast Guard still fulfill that function? The Coast Guard operates boats. Boats are on standby with crews at the ready. When Customs needs a boat, why don’t they ride Coast Guard boats? What is the cost of an operating hour for comparable Coast Guard and Customs boats?

AMO does need aircraft to do several tasks, including interdiction of smuggling by air, but why does Customs need to have a fleet of maritime patrol aircraft for interdiction of surface vessels, when the Coast Guard also has to provide a similar fleet for a whole range of missions? The AMO operates a fleet of 14 P-3s including both Airborne Early Warning models and P-3 Long Range Trackers. They are over 40 years old and undergoing an extensive and expensive life extension program. AMO also operates Bombardier DHC-8, and Beach King Air 350ER equipped with marine search radars. What is the cost of an operating hour for comparable Coast Guard and Customs aircraft?

AMO regularly performs air interdiction. Perhaps they should be the ones doing the low speed air interdiction over DC.

Other missions:

In  addition to drug enforcement, the two agencies seem to have overlapping missions in Alien Migrant Interdiction Operations (AMIO) and counter terrorism. Why weren’t these missions looked at as well?

AMO boats are suitable only for very short ranged AMIO missions while Coast Guard vessels a suitable for interception long before the approach the US coast.

It appears that AMO assets are limited to small arms. If the terrorist threat is anything much larger than a small boat, they are unlikely to be effective in countering it without assistance.

What about Jurisdiction?

AMO operates primarily within the customs waters, but it maintains the authority to pursue vessels fleeing the customs waters or hovering outside those waters as a means of avoiding AMO jurisdiction.

The Coast Guard is not similarly limited in the Marine environment. The effects of this on agency effectiveness was not considered.

Maybe AMO’s jurisdiction should be extended to cover the entire EEZ, but that is not the case now and AMO’s boats don’t seem suited for operations much beyond 12 miles. They are generally very fast, but probably short legged with minimal protection for the crew from the elements.

The characteristics of their boats don’t seem to square with the very long range character of their aircraft like the P-3s.

Why overlapping responsibility might be a good idea–coordination be damned:

There is one reason you might want two agencies responsible for the same law enforcement mission. That would be if you worry about the possibility that one of the agencies might be compromised. For instance if one agency is somehow compromised by a criminal organization. The law enforcement agency might still appear successful. The criminal organization might use the agency to eliminate its competitors, providing intelligence. A second independent agency might uncover this corruption.

Use of Force: 

There is an interesting section comparing the two agencies’ use of force policies.

Approval for Employing Use of Force

Coast Guard crews must receive approval from the appropriate official in the chain of command, typically an Admiral, before using force to stop noncompliant vessels. According to the Coast Guard, the approval time can take from 10 minutes to several hours depending on the case. In contrast, AMO policy reflects a more traditional law enforcement approach and allows its agents to make use of force decisions.

According to the Coast Guard, it needs a use of force policy to cover a vast range of mission sets across a legally and jurisdictionally complex operating environment. Although the approval process has some level of risk mitigation, the Coast Guard designed the process to relieve on-scene officers of the need to access U.S. jurisdiction and legal authority to employ force against a noncompliant vessel, and allows those officers to focus on executing the tactics and procedures to safely and effectively employ that force.

We participated in use of force demonstrations for noncompliant vessels with both components and experienced the delay in the Coast Guard’s approval process. Although there are potential safety concerns for Coast Guard boat crews during a pursuit, the Coast Guard stated that it updated its law enforcement manual to “refine and streamline the process in every way possible” to reduce the time lapse from when the Coast Guard vessel is “overt” (known by the suspected vessel to be following) to when the necessary actions (use of force) are completed.

Hopefully if a Coast Guard CO sees a terrorist attack underway, he will have the flexibility to act on the knowledge, even if there is no time to get approval.

Using Statistics that do not correlate:

As noted, the report only looked at drug enforcement and only at a small part of the mission. Quoting from the report,

“There are 206 combined locations where AMO and the Coast Guard conduct operations in customs waters. Of the 206, there are 17 locations (8 percent) where AMO and the Coast Guard have similar capabilities and an overlapping area of responsibility.”

 

” In FY 2015, at the 17 overlapping locations, all of AMO’s drug seizures occurred on land or in customs waters, where marine units primarily conduct operations.”

“The Coast Guard is a multi-mission agency, including law enforcement that operates in both customs and international waters. In contrast to AMO, Coast Guard personnel assigned to drug and migrant interdiction do not conduct investigative or land operations. In FY 2015, 93 percent of Coast Guard drug seizures occurred in international waters (Transit Zone) (emphasis applied–Chuck). AMO only deploys aircraft in this area; it does not have the vessels to operate in these waters.”

“In the overlapping locations, 84 percent of reported drug seizures were from AMO operations. These seizures occurred, in part, because of the different activities of each agency. For example, while some of AMO operations were intelligence based, the Coast Guard conducts routine patrols looking for illegal activity. Although Coast Guard patrols are not as effective as intelligence-based operations, they show a presence and can deter illegal activity.” (Emphasis applied–Chuck)

First note that this compares Customs’ seizures both on land and on the water with the seizures of the Coast Guard, a multimission agency, on the water alone. This also seems to imply that Customs was not sharing their intelligence with the Coast Guard.

FY 2015 Drug Seizures from the 17 Overlapping Locations Agency Customs Waters (Drugs in Pounds) AMO 28,707 (land and water) (84%) Coast Guard 5,602 (16%) Total 34,309.

I doubt the Coast Guard units they looked at drug interdiction as their primary mission. Certainly the AMO units did.

Why the difference in statistics?:

According to Coast Guard statistics, Coast Guard drug seizures in FY2015 were 319,229.4 lbs of Cocaine and 78,262 lbs of Marijuana. Appendix C indicates that the Coast Guard had seized 199,749 lbs of Cocaine and 57,855 lbs of Marijuana. (Why the large difference in these figures?)

Figures reported for AMO in Appendix C were 243,387 lb of cocaine and 719,180 lb of Marijuana.

Pounds of drugs is not a very informative metric, if various types of drugs are aggravated. It also says nothing about its purity. After being cut there is less drugs in a pound of drugs.

Over the past five years, according to Coast Guard statistics, Coast Guard cutters, Allied ships and U.S. Navy ships with Coast Guard boarding teams, in the transit zone, removed more than 500 metric tons of cocaine—a wholesale value of nearly $17 billion. According to the Coast Guard, “this is approximately three times the amount of cocaine, at twice the purity, seized by all other U.S. federal, state and local and tribal law enforcement agencies combined over the same time span.”

The figures above don’t seem to square.

Costs:

Looking at this, I found a cost comparison of what the two agencies spend for their personnel interesting. The total AMO budget for FY2015 was $750M supporting 1,665 members, while the CG budget of $8,380M supported 41,700. Budget/Personnel equals $450,450 per AMO member and $200,959 per CG member. There are probably lots of reasons AMO cost more than twice as much per member, but it might have been worth some examination.

Conclusion: 

Bottom line, this report failed to answer the question, “Why do both the Coast Guard and Customs have both boats and maritime patrol aircraft?”

What we got was a distorted comparison of the relative success of the Coast Guard and Customs drug interdiction efforts.

These distortions can have consequences and should not be allowed to pass unchallenged. I can understand the Coast Guard not wanting to offend people in the IG office, but I have no such problem, and neither should the subcommittee that requested the audit.

Thanks to Brymar consulting’s web site for alerting me to this.

Indonesian Bomb Plot?

murrahfederalbuildinginjuriesbyfloor

Photo: Floor-by-floor breakdown of the injuries/deaths in the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building from the April 1995 Oklahoma City bombing. Red triangles indicates a fatality, a yellow one indicates a victim was admitted. Author: Sue Mallonee at Oklahoma State Department of Health Injury Prevention Service

gCaptain is reporting that Indonesian authorities on the resort island of Bali have detained a ship from Malaysia carrying around 30 tonnes of ammonium nitrate which police believe may have been intended for making bombs.

Ammonium nitrate was, you may recall, a primary igrediant in the truck bomb used in the attack on the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City in 1995.

“…the bombing destroyed one-third of the building, killed 168 people, and injured more than 680 others. The blast destroyed or damaged 324 other buildings within a 16-block radius, shattered glass in 258 nearby buildings, and destroyed or burned 86 cars, causing an estimated $652 million worth of damage.”

Total weight of the explosives in that case was perhaps 7.000 pounds or less.

There is no indication that the ship itself was intended to be used as a bomb delivery system.