The Navy’s New Design for Maintaining Maritime Superiority–CNO

Download the pdf here.

Recently the new Chief of Naval Operations has issued a document , “A Design for Maintaining Maritime Superiority” that outlines how, hopefully, the US Navy can maintain a maritime superiority our foes will recognize and avoid confronting.

If you are looking for anything specifically regarding the Coast Guard here, you will not find it (other than the cutter in the formation on the cover). The Coast Guard is not mentioned even once, but it does talk about some things that are Coast Guard related. Perhaps we should not feel bad about this. It only mentions the Marine Corps once.

He talks about three forces that are changing the environment: 

  • The first global force is the traffic on the oceans, seas, and waterways, including the sea floor – the classic maritime system.
  • A second increasingly influential force is the rise of the global information system – the information that rides on the servers, undersea cables, satellites, and wireless networks that increasingly envelop and connect the globe.
  • The third interrelated force is the increasing rate of technological creation and adoption.”

Obviously the Coast Guard facilitates and regulates marine traffic and is tapped into the global information system. In wartime, these contacts will become essential. He also talks about new trade routes opening in the Arctic, that will only be reliable if we have new icebreakers. He also talks about illegal trafficing.

“This maritime traffic also includes mass and uncontrolled migration and illicit shipment of material and people.”

For once, finally, a document explicitly recognizes the competition,

“For the first time in 25 years, the United States is facing a return to great power competition. Russia and China both have advanced their military capabilities to act as global powers. Their goals are backed by a growing arsenal of high-end warfighting capabilities, many of which are focused specifically on our vulnerabilities and are increasingly designed from the ground up to leverage the maritime, technological and information systems. They continue to develop and field information-enabled weapons, both kinetic and non-kinetic, with increasing range, precision and destructive capacity. Both China and Russia are also engaging in coercion and competition below the traditional thresholds of high-end conflict, but nonetheless exploit the weakness of accepted norms in space, cyber and the electromagnetic spectrum. The Russian Navy is operating with a frequency and in areas not seen for almost two decades, and the Chinese PLA(N) is extending its reach around the world.

“…Coupled with a continued dedication to furthering its nuclear weapons and missile programs, North Korea’s provocative actions continue to threaten security in North Asia and beyond.

“…while the recent international agreement with Iran is intended to curb its nuclear ambitions, Tehran’s advanced missiles, proxy forces and other conventional capabilities continue to pose threats to which the Navy must remain prepared to respond.

“…international terrorist groups have proven their resilience and adaptability and now pose a long-term threat to stability and security around the world.”

He recognizes budgetary limitations.

“There is also a fourth ‘force’ that shapes our security environment. Barring an unforeseen change, even as we face new challenges and an increasing pace, the Defense and Navy budgets likely will continue to be under pressure. We will not be able to “buy” our way out of the challenges that we face. The budget environment will force tough choices but must also inspire new thinking.”

Throughout there is an emphasis on understanding history and the strategic concepts of the past. There is also a recognition of the need to work with partners.

“EXPAND AND STRENGTHEN OUR NETWORK OF PARTNERS: Deepen operational relationships with other services, agencies, industry, allies and partners – who operate with the Navy to support our shared interests.

Other than the Marine Corps, the US Navy has no closer partner than the USCG. The partnership has been a long and successful one, but I would like to see the Navy be a better partner to the Coast Guard.

What I want to see:

If we have “run out of money, now we have to think.” One thing we can do, is to try to get the maximum return from the relatively small investment needed to make the Coast Guard an effective naval reserve force.

  • We need explicit support from the Navy at every level, particularly within the Congress and Administration, for Coast Guard recapitalization.
  • We need an explicit statement from the Navy that they expect the Coast Guard to defend ports against unconventional threats, so that they can keep more forces forward deployed.
  • We need the Navy to supply the weapons we need to defend ports against unconventional attack with a probability approaching 100% ,including small missile systems like Hellfire or Griffin to stop small, fast, highly maneuverable threats and light weight anti-ship torpedoes that target propellers to stop larger threats, and we need those systems on at least all cutters of Webber class and larger.
  • We need to reactivate the Coast Guard’s ASW program and insure that all the new large cutters (NSC and OPC) have and ASW capability, if not installed on all of the cutters, at least planned, prototyped, tested, and practiced on a few ships (particularly in the Pacific).

(Note there is another post on this looking at the “design” from a Navy point of view.)

A Possible New Threat to Ports

UAEseahakemod4ERtorped

Photo: “A computer-generated image of a purpose-built SeaHake mod4 ER torpedo launch vessel that is similar to the ones that Atlas Elektronik said were delivered to its undisclosed launch customer. The two Rmah-class vessels that were delivered to the UAE in 2014 have the same stern hatches and seemingly ordinary shipping containers on their decks. (Atlas Elektronik)”

Jane’s 360 reports that the UAE, “The United Arab Emirates (UAE) is probably operating innocuous-looking vessels that are armed with the world’s longest-range torpedo: a capability that would enable it to target Iranian Kilo-class submarines at their base.”

This is based on a report that German torpedo manufacturer Atlas Elektronik had exported two “floating platform[s] with torpedo-launching gear….to the UAE in 2014, along with underwater detection equipment.”

Atlas Elektronik is the manufacturer of the world’s longest ranged torpedo, the SeaHake Mod4 ER, with a range of 140 kM (75.6 nautical miles). The manufacturer claims the torpedo is “fitted with innovative navigation and communications technology, enabling extremely precise navigation and control of the torpedo over the entire distance.”

Now, I doubt we have any reason to fear an attack by the UAE Navy, but if they have the capability it cannot be long before others do as well. If a torpedo can be precisely guided to a specific geographic location, it would be fairly easy to target almost anything in a port. It could be done by small UAV, but even that is unnecessary. An agent in port could identify the location of targets by observation and reference to google maps.

During WWII the Soviets commonly attacked Axis held ports by launching unguided torpedoes into them. This could take the concept to a whole new level.

(It may be that the UAE is pioneering a new austere type of ASW vessel equipped only with a towed array for detection and targeting and torpedoes to engage the target. They do not need underwater detection equipment to attack subs in port.)