U.S. Coast Guard: Priorities for the Future–CSIS/USNI

The video above records an recent event, a “Maritime Security dialogue” presented by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) and the United States Naval Institute (USNI) featuring Admiral Paul F. Zukunft, Commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard, for a discussion on the “U.S. Coast Guard’s future priorities.”

Despite the title, don’t expect a recitation of Coast Guard priorities. Most of the material is familiar, but there were a few interesting comments, including some that might be surprising. A number of things the Commandant said here made news.

  • That the NSCs could be made into frigates.
  • That the Polar Icebreaker would cost less than $1B
  • His support of transgender CG personnel.

I’ll give a quick outline of what was talked about. At the end I will rant a bit about some of my pet peeves.

The Commandant’s prepared statement is relatively short beginning at time 2m45s and ending about 11m.

6m00 In our listing of missions, the Commandant said Defense Operations should be listed first. He noted that there are 20 ships chopped to Combatant Commanders including eleven  ships operating under SOUTHCOM.

Q&A begins at 11:00.

16m20s The Commandant noted there is a Chinese ship rider on a USCG cutter off Japan and that Coast Guard aircraft are flying out of Japan.

17m30s Boarder protection/drug interdiction

20m Called the OPCs “light frigates”

22m As for priorities the Commandant noted a need to invest in ISR and Cyber

23m Cyber threat.

24m Expect return to sea duty because of length of training.

26m30s “Demise of the cutterman”/Human Capital Plan–fewer moves–removed the stigma of geographic stability

29m25s Highest percentage of retention of all services–40% of enlisted and 50% of officers will still be in the service after 20 years

30m Law of the Sea. Extended continental shelf in the Arctic.

32m30s Need for presence in the Arctic.

36m ISR, 38m15s Firescout. An interesting side note was that the Commandant seemed to quash any possibility of using the MQ-8 Firescout. He noted when they deployed on a cutter 20 people came with the system.  He called it unoccupied but not unmanned.

40m Icebreakers

43m30s Comments on transgender members

45m15s Icebreakers–will drive the price down below $1B.

47m NSC as frigate–no conversations with the Navy about this. Performance of Hamilton.

49m50s Count the NSCs toward the 355 ship Navy.

50m30s Illegal migration and virulent infectious disease

53m35s CG training teams in the Philippines and Vietnam to provide competency to operate platforms to be provided by Japan. Two patrol boats going to Costa Rica. Other efforts to build capacity.

56m DHS is the right place for the CG.

The Commandant touched on a couple of my pet peeves, specifically

  • He called the OPCs “Light Frigates,” so why aren’t they designated that way? WMSM and WMSL are just wrong in too many ways.  Give our ships a designation our partners and politicians can understand. A WLB is a cutter and also a buoy tender. The OPC can be both a cutter and a light frigate. I have suggested WPF. Maybe WFF for the Bertholfs and WFL for the Offshore Patrol Cutters. If we want to be thought of as a military service, we need to start using designations that will be seen and understood as military.
  • He mentioned the possibility of including the Bertholfs in the 355 ship fleet total. Coast Guard combatants should be included when the country counts its fleet. No, the cutters are not aircraft carriers or destroyers, but the current fleet of about 275 ships includes about 70 ships that have no weapons larger than a .50 cal. These include eleven MCM ships and about 60 ships manned by civilian crews such as tugs, high speed transports, salvage ships, underway replenishment ships, and surveillance ships. Counting the Cutters as part of the National Fleet would raise  our profile as a military service. The Navy might not like it, but it does give a better idea of our actually available assets for wartime, which is the point of such a listing.

 

 

WHEC Disposals

The Morgenthau has just been transferred to Vietnam’s Coast Guard.

This leaves us four remaining 378 foot WHECs. According to a MARAD report, “Office of Ship Disposal Programs Annual Report for FY2016” dated December 2016, page 43, Annex J, USCGC Sherman (WHEC-720) will be decommissioned in FY2018, Midgett (WHEC-726) in FY2019, Mellon (WHEC-717) in FY2020.

Decommissioning for USCGC Douglas Munro (WHEC-724) (note the full name–the Coast Guard has two USCGC Munros now, both in the Pacific, hope there is no confusion) was listed as, to be determined (TBD). FY2021 seems likely, but they may be holding off until they get an Offshore Patrol Cutter to take her place in Kodiak.

Thanks to Edrick Masangkay for bringing this to my attention.

The Era of Coast Guards in the Asia-Pacific is Upon Us–Rand Corp

The Rand Corporation has issued an interesting post regarding the increased use and aggressiveness of Asian Coast Guards. It is based on a study of the Chinese, Japanese, Vietnamese, and Philippine Coast Guards. The full text of the study is here. in pdf format.

The growth of these four Coast Guards has been remarkable. According to the report, between 2010 and 2016 the China Coast Guard vessel tonnage has increased 73%, the Japan Coast Guard increased 50%, the Vietnamese CG by 73%, and the Philippine CG by 100%.

The growth is largely driven by China’s pushiness using its newly formed Coast Guard, but it is also because of Japan’s new willingness to provide security assistance, at least in the form of Coast Guard vessels, to nations who, like them, must confront Chinese aggressiveness.

There also seems to have been a tacit acceptance of the idea that gray hulls should not mix it up with white hulls. This has played into the hands of the Chinese who have by far the largest fleet of white hulls in the world. In fact there are really only two kinds of vessels, private and government, and when fishing vessels act under government orders they are defacto government vessels

The full report has some figures I had not seen before.

Despite the fact that its missions apparently do not include Aids to Navigation, China’s CG is by far the largest:

“China’s investment has yielded a total fleet size of around 215 vessels, of which 105 are considered large (more than one-thousand-tons displacement) and 110 small (less than one thousand tons). In terms of total tonnage, China boasts the largest coast guard in the world at roughly 190,000 tons, enjoying substantial quantitative overmatch over its Asian competitors.” (The CCG reportedly has 17,000 members.)

Japan Coast Guard had a head start, it has grown less but still has more ships than the USCG.

In terms of fleet size, the U.S. Office of Naval Intelligence estimates that Japan has approximately fifty-three large and twenty-five small vessels in operation. The largest vessels in the JCG fleet include two PLH-class vessels with a displacement of 6,500 tons (9,000 tons fully loaded) and two Mizuho-class vessels of 5,200 tons. For comparison, the largest and most capable destroyers in the JMSDF, the Kongo-class vessels, displace approximately 9,500 tons. Most of the medium-to-high-endurance JCG vessels are equipped with deck-mounted autocannon that range in caliber from 20 to 40 mm, and most JCG officers carry light firearms for self-defense. Notably, the PLH-class cutters are only equipped with two Oerlikon 35–40 mm autocannon and two M61 Vulcan 20 mm six-barrel Gatling-style guns, compared with the 76 mm cannon on China’s largest cutter, Haijing 3901.

In terms of aviation assets, the JCG has by far the largest fleet in Asia, second only to the U.S. Coast Guard in the world, boasting twenty-six fixed-wing aircraft and forty-eight helicopters. Finally, the JCG has roughly 13,500 personnel, second most among coast guards in Asia.

Vietnam has also recently formed a Coast Guard.

The VCG has approximately fifty vessels: five large (the largest displaces 2,500 tons) and forty-five small. Soon after the Haiyang Shiyou 981 (HYSY 981) incident in 2014, Vietnamese prime minister Nguyen Tan Dung announced the allocation of U.S.$540 million to build thirty-two new coast guard ships and hundreds of aluminum fishing vessels that can withstand ramming better. With the delivery of two five-hundred-ton TT400TP-class patrol vessels in January 2016 and the addition of six one-thousand-ton patrol craft pledged from Japan, Vietnam will boast the largest coast guard fleet in Southeast Asia. Most VCG vessels have light-caliber deck-mounted autocannon or machine guns (ranging in size from 14.5 to 23 mm) or both, and most crewmembers carry light firearms for self-defense. The VCG has three fixed-wing CASA C-212 Aviocar patrol aircraft. The VCG has approximately 5,500 total personnel.

The Philippine Coast Guard:

The PCG maintains a small fleet of eight medium-endurance patrol craft, mounted with 50 mm autocannon; four buoy tenders; and roughly thirty-two small patrol vessels. Japan’s announcement that it plans to sell eight medium endurance cutters to the Philippines will mean an almost doubling of the PCG medium-endurance-cutter fleet. The PCG has only two operational aircraft— one fixed wing and one helicopter—but it is slated to receive two helicopters from France within the next few years. Finally, there are roughly 9,000 personnel in the PCG, with plans to expand to 13,500 by 2020.

A final note: 

It is not clear what type of displacement the study used. I try to consistently use full load, but Asian nations tend to try to minimize displacement and frequently report only light displacement.

The total displacement of the US Coast Guard’s ships is also going up, but it is not because of more ships, it is because the ships are larger. The total full load displacement for the program of record, 8 NSCs (36,000 tons), 25 OPCs (about 100,000 tons), and 58 FRCs (21,170 tons) is about 157,170 tons. The NSCs are 50% larger than the 378s. The OPCs are a third larger than the 378s and four times the size of the 210s. The FRCs are three times the size of the 110s they replace.

It might be assumed that a Country’s Coast Guard’s size should be related to the size of the country’s EEZ. It doesn’t seem to have worked that way. The size of the EEZs for the countries is

China: 877,019 km2 (plus disputed claims for 3,000,000 km)

Japan: 4,479,388 km2

Philippines:  2,263,816 km2

Vietnam: 748,875 km2

USA: 11,351,000 km2

 

Commandant’s Strategic Intent, Mid-Term Report

Coast Guard Capt. Douglas Nash, commanding officer of Coast Guard Air Sation Sacramento, salutes a Coast Guard C-27J pilot during a change of watch ceremony at Air Station Sacramento's hanger in McClellan Park, Thursday, July 1, 2016. The ceremony marked the final day that an HC-130 Hercules crew stood the watch at Air Station Sacramento and introduced the newest aircraft. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Loumania Stewart

Procurement of 14 C-27J aircraft was one of the achievements sited. C-27Js replace C-130s at CGAS Sacramento. 

The Commandant has issued a mid-term update on his earlier published “Strategic Intent, 2015-2019” (pdf). The new document is available in pdf format. You can find it here: “United States Coast Guard Commandant’s Strategic Intent, 2015-2019, Mid-Term Report.”

It is relatively short and readable at 21 pages. The recurring themes of the Commandant’s administration are all there, starting with TOC (transnational organized crime) and its deleterious effect on Western Hemisphere governance and prosperity. It does read a little like an Officer Evaluation Report input.

There is nothing particularly surprising here, but even for me, the enumeration of the scope the Coast Guard’s authorities, responsibilities, and international contacts is still mind boggling.

I am not going to try to summarize the report, but there were a few things that struck me.

The Commandant mentions service life extension programs for the seagoing buoy tenders (already begun), the 47 foot MLBs, and the 87 foot WPBs (in the future), but there is no mention of what we will do about the inland tender fleet. There will also be a life extension program for helicopters before they are finally replaced.

“Extend the service life of our rotary wing assets and align with DOD’s Future Vertical Lift initiative.”

There is mention of a program I was not aware of, the “Defense Threat Reduction Agency National Coast Watch System project.” The Defense Threat Reduction Agency attempts to track and reduce the WMD threat. It is not really clear what our role is here. We know about the container inspection programs in foreign ports. Is that it, or is there more to this? (that can be discussed at an unclassified level.)

WAR IN THE SHALLOWS, VIETNAM, 1965–1968

WAVPmarkettime

Photo: “COAST GUARD IN VIETNAM: Five white 311-foot cutters of the recently established Coast Guard Squadron Three assigned to “Market Time” coastal surveillance in South Vietnam are tied up alongside Navy repair ship USS JASON (AR-8) after arriving at Subic Bay, P.I.  From the left are the USCGC HALF MOON, USCGC YAKUTAT, USCGC GRESHAM, USCGC BARATARIA, and USCGC BERING STRAIT.” Coast Guard Photo Rel. No. 6201; 4 August 1967; photo by CDR Richard Morse, USCG, commanding officer of Barataria.”

There is a new book available that includes extensive coverage of the Coast Guard role in the Vietnam war. Best of all it is free and is available for download in pdf format. Just click on the link.

WAR IN THE SHALLOWS, U.S. NAVY COASTAL AND RIVERINE WARFARE IN
VIETNAM, 1965–1968

Yes, I know it says US Navy, but it does seem to give the Coast Guard its due, despite the title.

Thanks to Lee for bringing this to my attention.

Coast Guard Outlook 2015-2016

DefenseMediaNetwork has published an online version of the new “Coast Guard Outlook.” I have not read it all, there is a lot there, 164 pages. Fortunately, it allowed me to embed it above.

It includes an interview with the Commandant, a story about the 100 year history of Coast Guard Aviation, one about the Coast Guard in Vietnam, and another about the Offshore Patrol Cutter, along with several others.

When I first brought it up, the print was too small to read comfortably on my laptop, but you have two ways to get a larger view. Clicking on the page twice enlarges it (maybe too large). There is also a slider at the lower left that changes the size of the page you are viewing. Unfortunately neither adjustment is carried over when you go to the next page.

Thanks to Lee for bringing this to my attention.

 

Closer Coast Guard Ties with Vietnam

The Vietnamese have not had a coast guard very long, just two years, but it looks like after a recent visit by our Commandant, the US Coast Guard will be working more closely with them. The US had already committed to financing the purchase of US made patrol boats for the Vietnamese Coast Guard to the tune of $18M. We discussed this earlier here and here.

As you probably know, the Vietnamese and Chinese have an ongoing dispute over a large area of the South China Sea. A recent change has authorized the their Coast Guard to use force as necessary to expel those who violate law from Vietnamese waters.