Icelandic Coast Guard

It’s always nice to see how others who are doing a similar job. Rummaging around our site, I found this link to the Icelandic Coast Guard.

There are a lot of similarities and some interesting differences in organization. Much of the hardware looks similar. They do SAR, fisheries, pollution abatement, and anti-terrorism, but their organization is unionized and also includes a hydrographic office and a bomb disposal unit.

Interestingly there is a news release from Oct. 2009, on the site, recounting the fact that the the Icelandic Coast Guard had located and identified the wreck of the USCGC Hamilton (WPG-34), a Secretary class 327, which was the first US ship sunk in the Atlantic after the attack on Pearl Harbor. (One of my old ships, her sister ship, USCGC Duane (WPG/WHEC-33), had also been based in Iceland during the Convoy battles of 1942/43.)

Can-Do-itis, Can it be cured?

When we talked about the requirements for an Arctic Patrol Vessel, I had suggested that in this harsh and unforgiving environment, there would be circumstances when we would want to launch two helos or at least have a second helo on standby on deck. (Long range, far from help, marginal weather.) The response was that one helo would be enough.

Spoken like a true operator. Yes, Coast Guardsmen take calculated risks all the time. There is a mission to do. We have only one helo available. It would be better to have two, but that is not an option, so we go with one. We get away with it, so next time, we also go with one without even thinking about it. It becomes the standard.

But step back.

When we are in the procurement phase, we need to change our mind set. Having two helos is an option. The question is fundamentally different. I think the Coast Guard has been suffering from “Can-Doitis.” This is why we are still using ships that should have been replaced 15 years ago. Why our budget is being cut while the Navy’s is being increased. Why we must now decommission five ships before their replacements come on line. (Frankly, I think the decision to do so reflects refreshing realism on the part of the leadership, but it is why we got in this mess.)

I hope the operators’ attitude never changes, but when the operator moves to the position of stating our needs, the question has to change. Not, “If I have only this, are the risks acceptable?” but “What do we really need to do the job safely, reliably, and consistently without making unreasonable demands on our people?”

If we go to the administration or Congress and ask for the minimum we can get away with, we will never get more than the minimum. Worse yet, they will assume we have padded our request and will be only too happy to cut it further.

When our leadership decides that we can make do, they are not deciding for themselves. They are deciding for young people that we frequently demand too much of, the engineers that are working 18 hours a day, when they should be with their families, to get an ancient and unreliable plant ready to sail thousands miles from home, for the crew of a 110 that is, in fact, going in harms way, or the crews of cutters responding to the earthquake in Haiti only to have their ships fail them.

It is difficult, but going from the field to deciding what the service should ask for, means going from heroic, impetuous youth to being an overprotective parent looking out for the safety and well being of our most important asset, our people.

USS Newcomb (DD-586)

After having read William R. Wells, II (Wells2)’s story of First Lieutenant (later Commodore), Frank H. Newcomb, USRCS’s, performance during the Spanish American War, in which Wells2 noted that the Navy had named a destroyer after Commodore Newcomb, and seeing reference to USS Newcomb on the Navy History and Heritage Foundation Facebook page (now a broken link–Chuck) in connection with with the first heavy Kamakaze attacks of the Okinawa Campaign, I had to find out more.

The ship had a very short but illustrious career. She sank at least one and maybe two Japanese subs, lead a torpedo attack that sank a battleship, and survived five kamakaze hits. You can read about it here. They did get some things wrong with regard to the Battle of Cardenas, and the ships anti-aircraft battery, but the rest of the information appears reliable, and some of the pictures of the damage to the ship are very impressive.

This gives us another reason to name a cutter after Newcomb. Not only would we be honoring one of our heroes. We would be honoring this brave ship and our ties with the Navy.


Piracy of the African Coast has been in the news a lot lately. The Dutch Frigate Tromp has been particularly successful in countering this problem. (Pirates mistakenly attacked her twice–suspect there may have been some deceptive lighting involved) Most recently she used her helicopter, and six marines who fast-roped down down from it, to recapture a German container ship that had been seized by ten pirates. In accordance with recent doctrine, the crew had locked themselves in a “safe room” so that they could not be used as hostages by the pirates. More info here and here.

If we send a cutter into the Indian Ocean again, perhaps we should send along an MSST fast-rope team.

UAV info (from the manufacturer)

We have all heard that the Coast Guard is evaluating “unoccupied aerial vehicles,” UAVs, UASs, or whatever we are calling them lately. Ran across this recently and thought some of you might be interesting. Particularly liked the fact that the videos included a launch, and in the case of the Scan Eagle video, a recovery on a very small vessel.

Scan Eagle

At any rate it offers a sample of what might be in the works. 24 hour endurance, synthetic aperture radar, electro-optic/IR turret, in systems that can weigh less than 50 pounds, and we can take it off and recover from something as small as Fast Response Cutter.

NSC namesakes– Frank H. Newcomb?

If you are not familiar with the Story of the Cutter Hudson’s heroism during the Spanish American War, you might want to take a look at this piece by one of our regular participants, William R. Wells, II (Wells2).

As the author points out, the crew never seemed to get the recognition they deserved. I would love to see the Hudson’s captain, First Lieutenant, Frank H. Newcomb, USRCS, receive the Medal of Honor as Wells2 suggest, but perhaps the Coast Guard should honor him by naming one of the new NSCs in his honor.

While we are at it any other candidates for this honor?

“Top 10 Recent Failures of the Coast Guard”

When people voluntarily give you a critique, you probably ought to at least listen. Below are links to a critique offered by a mariner, apparently one of considerable experience. I personally don’t feel qualified to comment on most of it, because it relates to mission areas where I have had little or no experience, but perhaps some of you will get something from it.
Part 1:
Part 2:

Arctic Patrol Vessel

With all the talk of the Arctic opening up, I’d like to pick you brains about the sort of ships we need. How will we balance of numbers and capability?

Do we need a new design? An ice strengthened OPC? Can 225s do the job? A salt water Mackinaw? (Anybody know if the new Mackinaw is restricted to fresh water?)

Do we perhaps need a new type of vessel–maybe an icebreaking helo carrier with hanger space that can alternately be used for containers of different types from scientific or personnel support to mine warfare modules?

Should we reactivate the Glacier as an interim measure?

There is some background here.

What do you think?

MSSTs and Irregular Naval Warfare

We have all probably read that five Maritime Safety and Security Teams (MSST) are to be dissolved.  There is good background in a recent article in The Navy League’s magazine, “Sea Power”.

For those that would like a little more background on the potential threats, here are some links to historical employment of irregular naval warfare:

There were many more attacks in Vietnam. So called “sapper” attacks were fairly common.

GPS and development of technology for underwater work and recreation have made these capabilities much easier to achieve.

I’ve heard statements to the effect that others can do the mission better, but I don’t see anyone else stepping up to do the job, at least not in US ports other than Navy bases.

I have very mixed feelings about the underwater port security mission. It is really almost an impossible job to do with a high probability of success. There are too many potential targets, not unlike trying to protect subways or buses from suicide bombers. It’s a job the needs to be done, but it is most likely to be recognized only when there is a failure.