“Coast Guard Focused On Being Sea-Based In Arctic As Merits Of Deep-Water Port Debated” –USNI

Normally I would have just added this as a comment to our earlier discussion of an Arctic deep water port, but there was one statement that caught my eye.

For the Coast Guard, a proposed fleet of six heavy icebreakers (emphasis applied–Chuck) will provide the service with the resources needed to fulfill its Arctic missions, Adm. Karl Schultz, the commandant of the Coast Guard, told USNI News after an speaking at an event co-hosted by the Center for Strategic and International Studies and the U.S. Naval Institute.

This might be a misquote or a slip of the tongue, but this would be a departure from the previous plan of three heavy icebreakers and three medium icebreaker.

Since the heavy icebreaker cost less than originally expected and price should decrease for subsequent ships a single class might make sense.

The Commandant went on to make it clear that while there may be good reasons to develop a deep water port near the Arctic (neither of the ports being considered is actually above the Arctic circle) the Coast Guard’s primary concern is getting icebreakers built.

So far, while the Navy has started talking about operating surface ships in the Arctic, the Pacific Fleet has not been doing it. Their last “Arctic” exercise was actually in the Gulf of Alaska close to Kodiak. Until they start operating regularly North of the Aleutians, they don’t need a base an “Arctic Base.” The logical first step, if they want to return to the Bering Sea (still not really the Arctic), would be to re-activate NAS Adak.

Will Guest on Midrats Podcast Sunday

Axolotl. A type of Salamander that may retain gills
Photo credit: LoKiLeCh

I am scheduled to be the guest on the “Midrats” podcast this Sunday. This is where you will find the Podcast.


For those of you unfamiliar with the blog, here is the description:

Navy Milbloggers Sal from “CDR Salamander” and EagleOne from “EagleSpeak” discuss leading issues and developments for the Navy, Marine Corps, Coast Guard and related national security issues.

Sal, also has this tongue in cheek description of his blog, so you have a hint what he is like.

Proactively “From the Sea”; an agent of change leveraging the littoral best practices for a paradigm breaking six-sigma best business case to synergize a consistent design in the global commons, rightsizing the core values supporting our mission statement via the 5-vector model through cultural diversity.

Let’s just say, he finds buzzwords less than useful.

It will be broadcast live from 5 to 6 PM Eastern, 2 to 3 Pacific, Sunday, Oct. 6. If you sign in, you can make comments that the host can choose to respond to. It will also be available in recorded form on iTunes.

This will be a Coast Guard centric episode. “Cdr. Salamander” saw the “Navy, this is Coast Guard, we need to talk” post and mentioned it on his blog.

We will probably start with that, but discussion will not be limited to that.


Navy, this is Coast Guard, we need to talk

Look, I know you are in trouble. As much as we might kid each other, when it is time to fight, I’m your best friend, and I want to help. But you seem in denial, or maybe you are just up to your ass in alligators, and too preoccupied to think about how I might help. 

Numbers of ships is way down. You don’t even have enough escorts to protect the highest priority merchant shipping. You have had trouble bringing new classes on line. You are having trouble keeping the ships you have properly maintained, and you are having trouble manning the ships you have. Our shipbuilding industry has lost the ability to surge production of complex vessels. We don’t have enough trained mariners to man the shipping needed for a prolonged conflict. 

It hasn’t mattered much since there has not been much competition, but that is changing. 

The Chinese Navy is adding ships faster than you are. Their ships are starting to look very impressive. They have a robust ship building industry, and huge merchant marine and fishing fleets to backstop their Navy. They even have more Coast Guard ships than we do. 

It that were not enough, the Russian Navy is rebuilding, although they are a long way from as capable as the old Soviet Navy, but, worst case, we might have to fight them both, along with some minor hangers-on who have their own scores to settle. 

Meanwhile most of our allies, who may or may not help, have been coasting, letting their capabilities decline.

I know you are trying to fix this, but maybe I can help at least a little bit, if you will tell me what we can do.  


USCGC Mellon seen here launching a Harpoon anti-ship cruise missile in 1990.

The Coast Guard used to be an armed naval force prepared for war. We came out of World War II with an ASW mission, and while our assets got older, the mission continued. In the late 80s we cut the number of ASW assets, but modernized the best of our ships, upgrading their ASW equipment and adding anti-ship cruise missiles.

Then, we all got a break. The Soviet Union collapsed and the need for ASW escorts pretty much disappeared. The Navy downsized and the Coast Guard removed all ASW equipment and the anti-ship missile.

We had almost 30 years without a major naval threat, but it looks like that is changing.

The US Coast Guard is the US Navy’s closest ally, but it seems there is little coordination between the two in defining Coast Guard roles in a major conflict. We certainly don’t see any evidence in the way the cutters are currently being equipped.

In terms of personnel, the Coast Guard is larger than the UK’s Royal Navy or the French Navy. The new cutters are comparable in many respects to frigates or corvettes. Looks like we are going to have 64 Webber class patrol craft similar in capabilities to the Navy’s Cyclone class. Plus we have over 200 aircraft.

A U.S. Coast Guard C-130 participates in forward arming and refueling point (FARP) operations during Arctic Expeditionary Capabilities Exercise (AECE) in Adak, Alaska on Sept. 18, 2019. US Marine Corps Photo

Being combat ready is one of the Coast Guard’s eleven missions, but obviously we are not.

Though there has been some thought regarding the use of Coast Guard assets for limited wars in the tradition of their use in Vietnam and the Gulf Wars, consideration of the possibility of a larger conflict is nowhere evident in the way these assets are currently equipped. They may not even be adequately armed to deal with the full range of terrorist threats.

Upgrading the Bertholf class NSCs and the Offshore Patrol Cutters could add up to 36 light frigates to the national fleet. The Navy would need to provide some additional equipment, but that cost would be far less than the cost of adding similar ships to the Navy, and the difference in operating costs between ships with or without the upgrades is very small.

The Bertholf class National Security Cutters and the Offshore Patrol Cutters share systems with the Littoral Combat ships and the planned FFG(X). Exploitation of some of the additional systems developed for the LCS should be possible. Huntington Ingalls has already done basic design work on upgrades to the National Security Cutter class as part of a marketing effort.

There are opportunities for synergy between the Coast Guard and the Navy reserve such as flying Navy ASW helicopters from Coast Guard ships.

The first of the Offshore Patrol Cutters has yet to be completed. Significant upgrades should be possible. The program is just getting started with the first of a projected 25 expected to be delivered in 2021. It may be possible to develop a more capable, better armed “B”class.

OPC “Placemat”

Potential Missions: 

  • Upgraded NSCs and OPCs could escort priority shipping from the US coasts to the theater of operations. They may not be ideal, but they are ships we will have.
  • They and the Webber class supported by Coast Guard aviation assets could sweep the seas of hostile merchant shipping and fishing vessels that might be used to provide intelligence, land agents, or lay mines.
  • Those same assets could help enforce a blockade.
  • We can do Combat SAR and provide rescue services for when vital supply ships are inevitably lost. We can’t afford to loose trained mariners.
  • We can protect bases from unconventional attacks.
  • Buoy tenders can place sensors on the sea floor to detect enemy activity or lay something like captor mines.
  • Some of our ships can support unmanned systems for mine countermeasures.

If we go to war, “If it floats, it fights” will apply to Coast Guard vessels as well as Navy. They need to be ready. We need to be equipped and trained for whatever the Navy wants us to do.


Below is a Commandant Note published in full. Normally I would not publish these, but there is a good summary of the status of the cutter recapitalization effort in paragraph 3. Have to say I am still a bit uncomfortable with “completely paperless navigation.” I have had too many computer problems for mind not to revolt over the idea of total dependency on electrons.

united states coast guard

R 191425 SEP 19
UNCLAS //N01710// ;
ALCOAST 298/19
1. The Coast Guard Office of Cutter Forces (CG-751), the Heart of the Service, is
sponsoring a Sea Service Celebration centered around 18 October 2019 that honors
the sacrifices of the men and women serving aboard Coast Guard cutters, and
highlights the hard work of the thousands of shoreside administrative, training,
and engineering personnel who enable our fleet to operate. On 18 October 1974,
the Office of Personnel promulgated the Coast Guard Cutterman Insignia program,
to “recognize the contributions and qualifications of our personnel.”
2. This year, we celebrate more than 229 years of our sea-going traditions,
currently upheld by over 8,000 active duty personnel aboard our 255 cutters. The
theme of this year’s Celebration is “Cutter Art.” There are countless examples of
artistic creations by Cuttermen who take pride in their work and we want to
recognize their abilities and the time they dedicated to creating this wide array
of art.
3. These are exciting times to be a Cutterman – The 7th and 8th National Security
Cutters (NSC) were commissioned in August, NSC #9-11 are under construction and 25
Offshore Patrol Cutters (OPC) are planned. There are 33 commissioned Fast Response
Cutters (FRC) of the 56 planned for the domestic program of record. An additional
six are scheduled for commissioning in FY 2020 alone; we are also preparing to
transition FRCs to PATFORSWA, with the first two tentatively arriving in 2020.
The Waterways Commerce Cutter (WCC) received funding for expedited development of
plans for a replacement of the WLIC/WLI/WLR cutters. The Polar Security Cutter
(PSC) contract was awarded with funding approved for PSC #1 and long lead time
materials for PSC #2. To outfit our cutters, the new Cutter Boat Large 210/225
(CB-L) is in production and OTH-V and LRI-III are in initial acquisition stages.
All boats and cutters are scheduled to be furnished or retro-fitted with SINS-II
systems as we continue on our trackline to completely paperless navigation.
These substantial national investments are clear evidence of the great value
American leadership places in the hard work of our professional mariners and
support personnel fleetwide.
4. As part of this year’s Sea Service Celebration, COMDT (CG-751) is hosting a
Cutter Art contest and encourages participation by all current, past and aspiring
future professional mariners. Digital submissions of Cutter Art are due by 15
October 2019 and should follow the below guidelines:
    a. Potential artworks and examples of Cutter Art include, but are not limited
to; unofficial cutter seals or logos, pictures of artfully painted equipment, images
of fancy work, pictures of unit murals, and digital renderings of hand drawn images.
    b. Submissions will be judged on creativity, quality and ability to inspire
esprit de corps. Entries are limited to 5MB, formats that can be viewed and opened
on a standard CG workstation, and three submissions per unit. Photographers and
artists retain ownership and copyright of their submitted images. In consideration
of the contest, artists and photographers grant the use of their submissions to the
Coast Guard for use in various media starting from submission for a duration of one
    c. All submissions should be of good taste, professional in nature, and with due
regard to what is considered acceptable in 2019 versus historic examples of
military art containing what is now widely held as inappropriate.
    d. Chain of command approved contest submissions should be sent via email to the
two POCs listed below. The top three winning entries will be posted on the COMDT
(CG-751) portal page and social media platforms, and shared with Surface Naval
Association Presidents, Rating Force Master Chiefs, and Operational Commanders
for distribution within the cutter community.
5. COMDT (CG-751) further encourages all Cuttermen and operational commanders to
participate in the following events:
    a. Cutter Public Affairs Officers (PAO) are encouraged to utilize their Official
Facebook pages to post CO/OIC-approved photos and media under the hashtag #CutterArt
throughout the year.
    b. Local events: All commands are encouraged to host appropriate functions that
celebrate sea service traditions during the month of October, particularly on 18 October.
Suggestions include: local Cuttermen’s Calls, Dining-Ins, or cutter round-ups with
friendly competitions (DC Olympics, shiphandling challenge, etc.).
    c. For a concurrent annual Surface Naval Association (SNA) competition, submit photos
and videos by 01 October 2019 at: http://navysna.org/awards/komorowski-photo/ and at:
http://navysna.org/awards/video-competition.html (Won by USCGC BAILEY BARCO in 2018).
6. POCs: LT Keith Blevins at Keith.A.Blevins@uscg.mil and LT Micah Howell at
7. RDML Matthew W. Sibley, Assistant Commandant for Capability, sends.
8. Internet release is authorized.

A Conversation With General John Kelly

Marine Corps Gen. John F. Kelly, commander of U.S. Southern Command, discusses the latest developments in his command’s efforts to stem the flow of drugs from South and Central America while briefing reporters at the Pentagon, March 13, 2014.

As part of The U.S. Coast Guard Academy 2019–2020 Leadership Lecture Series, General and former administration Chief of Staff John F. Kelly addressed an audience of future officers at the Academy with former Commandant Admiral Thad Allen moderating. You can watch it here, but skip ahead. It does not really start until time 31:30. The actual discussion is about an hour.

“Coast Guard Cutter Procurement: Background and Issues for Congress” CRS

The crew of USCGC Kimball (WMSL 756) arrive in Honolulu for the first time Dec. 22, 2018. Known as the Legend-class, NSCs are designed to be the flagships of the Coast Guard’s fleet, capable of executing the most challenging national security missions, including support to U.S. combatant commanders. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Chief Petty Officer Sara Muir/Released)

The Congressional Research Service issued an updated version of its “Coast Guard Cutter Procurement: Background and Issues for Congress” on August 7. I have reproduced the report’s summary below. 


The Coast Guard’s program of record (POR) calls for procuring 8 National Security Cutters (NSCs), 25 Offshore Patrol Cutters (OPCs), and 58 Fast Response Cutters (FRCs) as replacements for 90 aging Coast Guard high-endurance cutters, medium-endurance cutters, and patrol craft. The Coast Guard’s proposed FY2020 budget requests a total of $657 million in procurement funding for the NSC, OPC, and FRC programs.

NSCs are the Coast Guard’s largest and most capable general-purpose cutters; they are intended to replace the Coast Guard’s 12 aged Hamilton-class high-endurance cutters. NSCs have an estimated average procurement cost of about $670 million per ship. Although the Coast Guard’s POR calls for procuring a total of 8 NSCs to replace the 12 Hamilton-class cutters, Congress through FY2019 has funded 11 NSCs, including the 10th and 11th in FY2018. Six NSCs have been commissioned into service. The seventh and eighth were delivered to the Coast Guard on September 19, 2018, and April 30, 2019, respectively, and are scheduled to be commissioned into service in August 2019. The ninth through 11th are under construction; the ninth is scheduled for delivery in 2021. The Coast Guard’s proposed FY2020 budget requests $60 million in procurement funding for the NSC program; this request does not include funding for a 12th NSC.

OPCs are to be smaller, less expensive, and in some respects less capable than NSCs; they are intended to replace the Coast Guard’s 29 aged medium-endurance cutters. Coast Guard officials describe the OPC program as the service’s top acquisition priority. OPCs have an estimated average procurement cost of about $421 million per ship. On September 15, 2016, the Coast Guard awarded a contract with options for building up to nine OPCs to Eastern Shipbuilding Group of Panama City, FL. The first OPC was funded in FY2018 and is to be delivered in 2021. The second OPC and long leadtime materials (LLTM) for the third were funded in FY2019. The Coast Guard’s proposed FY2020 budget requests $457 million in procurement funding for the third OPC, LLTM for the fourth and fifth, and other program costs.

FRCs are considerably smaller and less expensive than OPCs; they are intended to replace the Coast Guard’s 49 aging Island-class patrol boats. FRCs have an estimated average procurement cost of about $58 million per boat. A total of 56 have been funded through FY2019, including six in FY2019. Four of the 56 are to be used by the Coast Guard in the Persian Gulf and are not counted against the Coast Guard’s 58-ship POR for the program, which relates to domestic operations. Excluding these four OPCs, a total of 52 FRCs for domestic operations have been funded through FY2019. The 32nd FRC was commissioned into service on May 1, 2019. The Coast Guard’s proposed FY2020 budget requests $140 million in acquisition funding for the procurement of two more FRCs for domestic operations.

The NSC, OPC, and FRC programs pose several issues for Congress, including the following: 

  • whether to provide funding in FY2020 for the procurement of a 12th NSC; 
  • whether to fund the procurement in FY2020 of two FRCs, as requested by the Coast Guard, or some higher number, such as four or six; 
  • whether to use annual or multiyear contracting for procuring OPCs; 
  • the annual procurement rate for the OPC program; 
  • the impact of Hurricane Michael on Eastern Shipbuilding of Panama City, FL, the shipyard that is to build the first nine OPCs; and 
  • the planned procurement quantities for NSCs, OPCs, and FRCs.