Interview: Adm. Paul Zukunft demands Coast Guard respect–Defense News

DefenseNews had an interview with the Commandant. You can read it here. I will not repeat the Commandant’s responses here, but I will repeat one of the questions and add my own thoughts.

Admiral, you have said that the Coast Guard’s identity as an armed service is forgotten. Can you tell me what you mean by that?

The Commandant talks here about budget, but I think this starts with self image. We do SAR. We rescue sea turtles. Armed services are first and foremost ARMED. We are by law a military service, but we are currently inadequately armed for even our peacetime counter terrorism, DHS mission. We are less capable of forcibly stopping a ship than we were 90 years ago.

Do our people know what their role will be if there is a major conflict with the Chinese or Russians? You can bet Navy and Marine Personnel have a pretty good idea of their roles.

We have had a quarter century hiatus in a mono-polar world where no one could challenge American seapower. That is changing rapidly and it is time for the Coast Guard to see itself in a new light. Just as the nation has benefited from having two land forces (Army and Marines), it can benefit from having two sea forces. The Coast Guard is a substantial naval force. Certainly we will not replace the Navy’s sophisticated systems, but there is a need for a high low mix and the marginal cost of adding capability to Coast Guard vessels that are going to be built anyway is very small.

We are currently in an unrecognized naval arms race with China. It is time to give the Coast Guard back the ASW and ASuW capabilities it was building before the collapse of the Soviet Union.

When I reported to the academy in 1965, it had a gun lab, and we were taught ASW (badly) during swab summer. The Coast Guard had 36 ships equipped with sonar, ASW torpedoes and 5″ guns. The ships were old (not as old as now), but we were building a new fleet of 36 Hamilton Class WHECs equipped with a better sonar in addition to torpedoes and a 5″ gun. Being armed did not stop us from doing SAR, fisheries, or aids to navigation.

At that time (1965) in terms of personnel, the US Navy was about 25 times larger than the Coast Guard and had 287 cruisers, destroyers, and frigates. Now it is only eight times as large as the Coast Guard and has only 85 ASW equipped surface ships. We also had a powerful naval ally in Europe in the form of the Royal Navy. Now the Coast Guard is supplying personnel to the Royal Navy and in terms of personnel the Coast Guard is larger than the Royal Navy or the French Navy. Equipping our planned 33 to 35 large cutters as true surface combattants could make a real difference.

Even if we never go to war, preparation can make us better at our peacetime roles. Drug interdiction, migrant interdiction, and even SAR benefit from military grade ISR and C4I. Recognition of naval capabilities in the Coast Guard may justify additional resorces that have dual use for peacetime missions. Its a win-win.

 

Putting Torpedoes on the Webber Class WPC

USCGC Kathleen Moore (WPC-1109)

What is the Problem?:

For a good while, I have been pointing out that the Coast Guard really does not have a means of forcibly stopping a medium to large ship, if its crew is willing to risk death. Even the largest guns the Coast Guard has (76 and 57mm) are unlikely to be able to reliably stop such a ship, and those larger cutters that carry the 76 and 57mm guns are unlikely to be available when needed anyway. They are more likely to be either deployed far from the ports or in maintenance status, unable to respond in a timely manner. There are also no other US military forces positioned and ready to respond to this type threat.

This means, the assets most likely to be available to stop a terrorist attack are Webber class WPCs and smaller vessels. They are armed, at best, with the 25mm M240 chain gun in a Mk38 mount and .50 caliber machine guns. These are even more unlikely to be able to forcibly stop a vessel. In addition there is a good possibility, a hostile vessel used for such a mission could be equipped with weapons that can out gun and out range the cutter. The Mk38 has a reported effective range of 2700 yards. I estimate the maximum effective range of improvised weapons on a terrorist vessel might be as much as 4000 yards. (I have never seen any indication anyone is attempting to train to use anything approaching the 25mm’s maximum range of 7,450 yards.)

Photo: This is a Chinese experiment with improvised armament for civilian ships. Likely useful systems include anti-tank guided missiles, recoilless rifles, heavy machine guns, man portable anti-aircraft missiles, and anti-aircraft and anti-tank guns which are designed to follow fast moving targets allowing them to compensate for movement of the ship. Terrorists would probably make more of an effort to hide the weapons, but you get the idea. 

What is available?:

I believe light weight torpedoes are the lightest, cheapest way to provide the missing capability.

Until recently, I had assumed, we would have to at least reprogram some of our existing light weight torpedoes. Recently I saw a report that the Mk46 mod5 has an anti-surface capability, so it may not be necessary to create or modify a torpedo for the role.

The Mk46 torpedo is not exactly new tech, the original design is over 50 years old and the mod5 version was introduced over 30 years ago. Two newer light weight torpedoes have been developed since introduction of the Mk46, the Mk50 in 1981 and the Mk54 (which uses the propulsion system of the Mk46) in 2004. Because the replacements are more expensive, there are still a large number of Mk46 torpedoes in the inventory. The national fleet (Navy and Coast Guard) has far fewer light weight torpedo armed surface combatants now (85) they did, 30 years ago (229). (At one time, the Coast Guard had quite a few Mk46 torpedoes on the 378s.)

Despite its age, the Mk46 appears adequate to stop most ships. It has an unclassified reported speed 45 knots and a range variously reported as at least 8,000 yards. Its warhead wight is only 98 pounds, about 15% that of the Mk48 heavy weight torpedo’s 650 pound warhead, but the effects of underwater explosions are not proportional to the weight of explosive. The effect, assuming the same explosive is use, is proportional to the cube root of the weight of explosive. This means that the shock experienced as a result of a 98 pounds of explosive underwater is more than half that experienced as a result of the explosion of 650 pounds at the same distance.

We might convince the Navy that putting torpedoes on Coast Guard cutters, is just another place to store them until needed. We are not likely to expend many of them, and if we use one or two, I think they will forgive us.

Why the Webber class WPCs?:

If there is a terrorist attempt using a medium to large ship, a Webber class WPC is likely to be the most capable Coast Guard unit available to attempt to stop the attempt. Larger ships are likely to be either far away or unable to get underway in time.

Perhaps in the future we could also equip the larger cutters and the 87 foot WPB replacement with these weapons, but the WPCs should be the highest priority.

What does an installation look like?: 

American light weight torpedo launchers are all designated Mk32, but they are available in three configurations, triple, stacked twin, and single. The single tube fixed Mod11 is the lightest and probably most appropriate for the WPCs. Two torpedo tubes and two torpedoes are probably sufficient. Support equipment can mostly be left at a support facility ashore.

Surface Vessel Torpedo Tube, Mk32 mod11

These systems are relatively small, 11’4″ in length and less than two feet wide. Loaded with a Mk46 torpedo, each tube weighs 1160 pounds. They do require 9’6″ of open space behind the breech for the tray used to load the 8’6″ long torpedo.

Where to put install?:

In regard to putting torpedoes on Webber Class cutters, one question I have gotten is, “where would you put them?”

I see three likely locations. All three would require some minor modifications to the ship.

  1. On the stern aimed aft to fire over the transom.
  2. On the O-1 deck behind the bridge firing forward and slightly to the sides.
  3. On the O-1 deck forward of the bridge firing forward and slightly to the sides.

The first would require some rearrangement of deck outfit.

The second and third options would likely require about a three foot wide and 12 foot long extension to the O-1 deck on both sides essentially covering the walkway between the main deck superstructure and the side of the hull. This would allow mounting and access to the tubes which would be pointed at a shallow angle outboard placing the muzzle just inside and above the ship’s side. The breech would be angled in so that it is accessible for loading from the clear space behind it.

Personally I prefer the second or third options.

If there is ever a question “Are cutters are large enough to launch a light weight torpedo?” this should dispel any doubts. Below is a photo of a 12 meter (40 foot) Unmanned Surface Vessel with two torpedo tubes. It also has a dipping sonar (presumably the type used by helicopters).

“Too Small to Answer the Call”–USNI Proceedings

The May issue of US Naval Institute Proceedings is the Naval Review issue. It includes updates on the Coast Guard as well as the Navy and Marine corps that are behind the membership pay wall, but it also has an article, “Too Small to Answer the Call,” by Capt. David Ramassini, future CO of USCGC Kimball (WMSL-756) that is accessible to all, and I think is worth a read.

Basically he is advocating using the Coast Guard internationally to build capacity and counter threats of lawlessness and poor governance in trouble spots all around the world. Below is his recommended building program.

Build a New Great White Fleet

Enhancing regional security in partnership with willing nations requires a 21st-century Great White Fleet of forward deployable (or stationed) national security cutters (NSCs), offshore patrol cutters (OPCs), and fast response cutters (FRC). The mix of platforms and duration of presence would be tailored to the distinct geographies and vary based on the receptiveness of the host nation(s), problem sets to be addressed, and mutual goals of the combatant commands and partner nations. Building on a proven bilateral approach for counterdrug operations and EEZ enforcement, the Great White Fleet would leverage existing agreements—based on the extent to which partner governments are willing—to strengthen CTOC (counter transnational organized crime–chuck) and CT (counter terrorism–Chuck) across the JIME (Joint Interagency Multinational Environment–Chuck).

From an acquisition perspective, doubling the size of both the OPC (from 25 to 50) and FRC (from approximately 50 to 100) programs equates to the projected cost of one Gerald R. Ford (CVN-78)-class aircraft carrier (approximately $13 billion). Furthermore, procuring an additional seven NSCs over the nine planned would cost the equivalent of one Zumwalt (DDG-1000)-class guided-missile destroyer (approximately $4.2 billion). The NSC and OPC both offer more than three times the on-station time between provisioning than is afforded by a littoral combat ship (LCS).

Building more OPCs also could rapidly grow the National Fleet by leveraging commercial shipyards outside the mainstream industrial complex. These shipyards may be able to provide better value to the government during an economic downturn in the oil and offshore supply industry. Further leveraging this acquisition would continue to drive down the cost of the OPCs and provide an additional industrial base to build a 400-ship National Fleet of ships with far lower operating and maintenance costs than the LCS.

Redirecting proposed future LCS/frigate dollars (approximately $14 billion) to a Great White Fleet to modernize the U.S. National Fleet mix would provide a greater return on investment and more staying power abroad. For instance, building international security cutters—NSCs with Navy-typed/Navy-owned enhancements such as the SeaRAM antiship cruise missile—could offer combatant commanders a truly useful “frigate,” leveraging mature production lines that now operate at only 70 percent capacity. These estimates are for relative comparison and do not include the associated aviation, infrastructure, basing support agreements, and personnel plus-ups that are needed to provide a more credible and persistent presence across the JIME. But investing in a larger Coast Guard and the supporting infrastructure would return high dividends.

I’m not sure I agree, but it is worth considering. We should, however, keep in mind a sentiment expressed by friend Bill Wells that white paint is not bullet proof. We should not perpetuate the idea that only white painted ships can enforce laws, that is a uniquiely American concept and perpetuating it plays into the hands of the Chinese, who have more coast guard ships than any other country in the world.

Still I think there is merit to this concept. It seems to be working for PATFORSWA (Patrol Forces South West Asia). There has already been talk about a similar deployment to SE Asia. We might consider similar detachments of various sizes for West Africa, the Eastern Pacific, and the Marshall Islands.

The additional ships, 7 NSCs, and “doubling the size of both the OPC (from 25 to 50) and FRC (from approximately 50 to 100)” Is clearly arbitrary. There is very little the NSCs can do that the OPCs will not also be able to do cheaper, so I don’t see a need for more NSCs.

If we take on additional international roles it probably will not be done in one fell swoop. It will probably be done incrementally. Captain Ramassini is clearly looking at this as a near term possibility. Some movement in this direction is clearly possible, but it will take a radical change in the Administration, the Navy, and the Coast Guard for this to happen on the scale he envisions.

Meanwhile, if you look at the “Offshore and Aviation Fleet Mix Study,” the Coast Guard actually needs 9 NSCs, 57 OPCs, and 91 FRCs just to meet all of our statutory obligations. That is not far from his 16 NSCs, 50 OPCs, and 100 FRCs. The study and the “Great White Fleet” would both probide 66 large ships (NSCs and OPCs).

Actually the only way I see this happening is if there is a realization that keeping the USN constantly cycling through distant deployments may not be the best way to maintain readiness. That it wears out very expensive ships and drives people from the service, and that perhaps cutters can perform at least some of the presence missions.

57mm Mk110 Video

 

“…footage of USS Detroit (LCS-7) firing its 57 mm gun in a series of tests that sank an inbound surface target and destroyed an unmanned aerial vehicle on March 6 and 7, 2017. US Navy/Lockheed Martin Video”

Our weapons are tools we don’t get to use very often. lt is good to have confidence in your tools. The video is encouraging, but there is very little information here. What was the range to the targets? How big was the UAV? How fast were they moving? How many rounds were required to achieve the effect.

If anyone has specifics I would love to hear them.

Ports, Waterways, and Coastal Security–Russian Style

NavyRecognition is reporting a Project 21980 Grachonok-class anti-commando boat of the Black Sea Fleet, the Yunarmeyets Kryma, has joined the Russian Navy’s standing naval force in the Mediterranean (Presumably in Syria).

The Yunarmeyets Kryma is a special boat built by the Zelenodolsk Shipyard in 2014. The Vympel Design Bureau in Nizhny Novgorod had developed the class to guard water areas and fight enemy naval commandos in the waters of naval bases and on close approaches to them. The boats in the class carry heavy machineguns, antidiver grenade launchers and man-portable air defense systems. Their radio electronics allow searching for underwater objects – both static and moving – while their diving system allows several divers to dive simultaneously.

It looks like a WPB so I looked up the class. They are 138 tons, 102 ft (31 m) in length, 23 knots, and a crew of eight. The Russians have built twelve and are building ten more.

Described as being anti-saboteur and anti-commando boats these are in intended for “force protection” which is included in the Coast Guard’s Ports, Waterways, and Coastal Security mission (PWCS). It is also one of the missions of the new US Navy MK VI patrol boat. We have detachments at Bangor and Kings Bay to protect Fleet Ballistic Missile subs while in transit that also perform this function.

Despite the similarities in mission, the Russian boat is armed and equipped much differently from their USN and USCG counterparts. It has a couple of sonars. In addition to a 14.5 mm (.60 cal.) machine gun, they have point defense anti-air missiles. Defense against swimmers is apparently much on their mind. They have two anti-swimmer weapon systems, the DP-64 a shoulder fired mini-depth charge thrower and the DP-65, a ten barrel, automated, sonar controlled mini-depth charge thrower.

File:DP-64.png

DP-64 anti-swimmer grenade launcher. Artist: Jason Biggs

“The 55mm DP-65 remotely controlled…grenade launching system is designed for protection of ships against attacks of underwater combat swimmers at external roadstead open anchor stops and bases, for protection against attacks of underwater combat swimmers at water-development works, sea platforms and other important sea and coastal installations.”

The US had a lot of trouble with Viet Cong combat swimmers during the Vietnam war. They even manage to sink a small WWII built aircraft carrier (CVE) being used as an aircraft transport. It is unclear how well prepared we are for this type of attack now.

Laser Added to Mk38 Mod2

Navy Recognition reports that BAE now offers a 60 kW Laser addition to the Mk38 mod2 gun mount currently on the Webber Class Fast Response Cutters and planned for the Offshore Patrol Cutter.

“The addition of a 60kW TLS would provide true selectable and scalable effects ranging from non-lethal to lethal. This would allow for new response options in both conventional and irregular conflicts.”

Note the laser on the USS Ponce is only 30 kW.

Late addition: 

How it might be useful: It could be used in a less than lethal mode. It could probably be used for disabling fire against outboard motors with greater precision than a gun. It could be used to destroy UAS (drones) inside ports without worrying about where misses might land.