Armed Drones: The Coast Guard’s Next New Frontier?–USNI Proceedings

Coast Guard air crews unhook a Fire Scout UAS during a test on the Coast Guard Cutter Bertholf near Los Angeles, Dec. 5 2014. The Coast Guard Research and Development Center has been testing UAS platforms consistently for the last three years. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Luke Clayton)

The Dec. 2017 issue of the US Naval Institute Proceedings magazine has an excellent article, by LCdr Craig Allen, Jr., USCG, considering the possibility of the Coast Guard employing armed drone, specifically to assume the airborne use of force (AUF) role.

He considers both the pros and cons of taking this step, and along the way makes a compelling case that it is not only feasible but probably also desirable.  Additionally he suggests that drones may allow the Webber class WPCs to employ AUF.

19 More Names for Webber class WPCs

The graphic above is a bit dated. 26 of the class have been delivered to date. 

ALCOAST 349/17 has announced, and the Navy League has reported, the names selected for 19 more Webber class WPCs. I have provided a copy ALCOAST below.

To make it a bit easier to read, the Navy League’s listing is immediately below. Unlike the previous listings, I have not seen an explanation of what these individuals did. Hopefully their stories will be provided. I do recognize Maurice Jester as the CO of USCGC Icarus when she sank the U-352 These 19 bring the total number of names selected to 54.

■ Master Chief Angela McShan
■ Surfman Pablo Valent
■ Surfman Frederick Hatch
■ Mustang Officer Maurice Jester
■ Electrician Myrtle Hazard
■ Coxswain Harold Miller
■ Coxswain William Sparling
■ Coxswain Daniel Tarr
■ Coxswain Glenn Harris
■ Coxswain Douglas Denman
■ Pharmacist’s Mate Robert Goldman
■ Steward’s Mate Emlen Tunnel
■ Steward’s Mate Warren Deyampert
■ Seaman John Scheuerman
■ Seaman Charles Moulthrop
■ Boatswain’s Mate Clarence Sutphin
■ Boatswain’s Mate Edgar Culbertson
■ Keeper William Chadwick
■ Keeper John Patterson.

R 221121 NOV 17
FM COMDT COGARD WASHINGTON DC//CG-092//
TO ALCOAST
UNCLAS//N05700//
ALCOAST 349/17
COMDTNOTE 5700
SUBJ:  NEW FAST RESPONSE CUTTERS NAMED FOR COAST GUARD HEROES
1. In 1830, the Revenue Cutter Service, predecessor to the modern Coast Guard
launched its first standardized multi-ship class of cutters. The Morris-
class, named for the first cutter in the class, Robert Morris, was designed
with a topsail-schooner rig and a length of 78 feet. These cutters carried
six 9-pound cannons and a crew of 24 officers and men.
2. The thirteen Morris-class cutters fought pirates, interdicted smugglers,
enforced federal maritime laws and operated with American naval forces in
time of war. In the years leading up to the American Civil War, Cutter Morris
and her sister ships formed the backbone of the revenue cutter fleet.
3. As with the Morris class, the Coast Guard is building a class of cutters
designed to serve a multi-mission role. The “Sentinel” – Class Fast Response
Cutters (FRC) perform drug and migrant interdiction; ports, waterways and
coastal security; fishery patrols; search and rescue; and national defense.
4. In the next few years, the Coast Guard will deliver 32 additional cutters
bringing our service numbers up to 58 FRCs intended to replace the fleet of
1980s-era 110-foot patrol boats. The FRCs feature advanced command, control,
communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance
equipment; over-the-horizon cutter boat deployment to reach vessels of
interest; and improved habitability and sea-keeping characteristics.
5. Twenty-six FRCs are currently in service, with six stationed in Miami
Beach, Florida; six in Key West, Florida; six in San Juan, Puerto Rico; two
in Ketchikan, Alaska; two in Cape May, New Jersey; two in Pascagoula,
Mississippi; and two in Honolulu, Hawaii.
6. As with their FRC sister cutters, the next flight of 19 FRCs will bear the
names of enlisted leaders, trailblazers and heroes of the Coast Guard and its
predecessor services of the U.S. Revenue Cutter Service, U.S. Lifesaving
Service and U.S. Lighthouse Service. These new cutters will be named for
Master Chief Angela McShan; Surfmen Pablo Valent and Frederick Hatch; Mustang
Officer Maurice Jester; Electrician Myrtle Hazard; Coxswains Harold Miller,
William Sparling, Daniel Tarr, Glenn Harris and Douglas Denman; Pharmacists
Mate Robert Goldman; Stewards Mates Emlen Tunnel and Warren Deyampert; Seamen
John Scheuerman and Charles Moulthrop; Boatswain’s Mates Clarence Sutphin and
Edgar Culbertson; and Keepers William Chadwick and John Patterson. These
enlisted namesakes include recipients of the Navy Cross Medal, Silver Star
Medal, Bronze Star Medal, Gold Lifesaving Medal, Silver Lifesaving Medal,
Navy & Marine Corps Medal and Purple Heart Medal.
7. The Fast Response Cutters are the mainstay of the Coast Guard’s coastal
patrol fleet, providing multi-mission capabilities and interagency
interoperability. For more information, check the Coast Guard Acquisition
Directorate’s FRC web page at: http://www.dcms.uscg.mil/Our-
Organization/Assistant-Commandant-for-Acquisitions-CG-9/Programs/Surface-
Programs/Fast-Response-Cutters/
8. RADM Peter W. Gautier, Director of Governmental and Public Affairs, sends.
9. Internet release authorized.

The U. S. Coast Guard in the South China Sea: Strategy or Folly?–CIMSEC

CIMSEC has a brief discussion of the possibility of deploying a Coast Guard presence in the South Chia Sea.

First let me say, I don’t think using cutters for Freedom of Navigation demonstrations would be an improvement. Our warships have every right to be there. Substituting Coast Guard Cutters to be less offensive to the Chinese might be seen as a sign of  weakened resolve, and it would be a whole lot easier for them to make a move against a cutter than a DDG.

The presumption in these discussions seems to be, that if we do put a presence in the South China Sea, it will be a large cutter. There is another alternative. If we want a Coast Guard presence in the area, perhaps we should start small. We could move three 110 foot WPBs to a port in the South China Sea. When enough Webber class become available, we could replace the WPBs with the newer WPCs and donate the 110s to a navy or coast guard in the area. (It would not hurt if some of the members of the WPB crews were of Asian descent.)

They could do the same kind of capacity building our cutters in South West Asia do. They could help with local fisheries enforcement, particularly the increasingly aggressive members of Chinese maritime militia units. If our cutters occasionally provide force protection or operate with a DDG conducting a Freedom of Navigation Exercise, that’s good too.

 

 

Interview with Commandant

https://1yxsm73j7aop3quc9y5ifaw3-wpengine.netdna-ssl.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/10/102017-dhs-15.mp3?_=1

Federal News Radio has an interview with the Commandant. There is a short written summary here or you can listen to it on their page or above. Some interesting developments with regard to drug interdiction in the Eastern Pacific. Sea story about actual employment of a sea based Unmanned Air System.

Interestingly he again refers to Russia arming Icebreakers so I think perhaps we may see some movement to arm or at least make provision for arming our new icebreakers.

Building a 21st Century Infrastructure for America: Coast Guard Sea, Land, and Air Capabilities–House Subcommittee Hearing

 

The hearing recorded above was held 7 June. The original video was found here. That page also provides the chairman’s opening statement and links to the witnesses’ written statements that are also provided immediately below. The video does not actually start until time 4:30.

Below, you will find my outline of the highlights.

Witness List:

  • Vice Admiral Charles W. Ray, Deputy Commandant for Operations, United States Coast Guard | Written Testimony
  • Vice Admiral Sandra L. Stosz, Deputy Commandant for Mission Support, United States Coast Guard | Written Testimony Ms. Marie A. Mak, Director, Acquisition Sourcing & Management Team, Government Accountability Office | Written Testimony
  • Mr. John Acton, Chairman, Coast Guard Affairs Committee, Navy League of the United States | Written Testimony

The GAO’s written testimony is particularly comprehensive. They report that new assets (NSCs and FRCs) are not meeting planned availability. There have been an unexpected number of engine replacements. In the case of the National Security cutters it appears to me the down time was predictable, a normal part of introducing new ships and availability should return to planned levels as more ships join the fleet. The known defect, that when operating in waters 74 degrees or warmer, the NSCs cannot maintain maximum speed has apparently not been corrected. Max speed must be reduced two to four knots to allow adequate cooling.

Planning Documents:  The Congressional Representatives repeatedly complained that they were not getting an unsensored statement of the Coast Guard’s needs. It appears the Coast Guard is not being allowed provide this information. Rather it appears the GAO is telling the Coast Guard how much they will be getting and told to submit a budget that fits the predetermined amounts. Reportedly the Unfunded priorities list will be provided by the end of June. They also asked for the 5 year and 20 year plan (1h04:30). Coast Guard representatives were repeatedly told the Coast Guard does not say what they really need, that information provided by the Coast Guard is inadequate for the sub-committee to make decisions (1h48m).

It appears that the GAO continues to ask the Coast Guard to plan procurements based on historically low AC&I appropriations that were adequate for a time because of the sporadic character of Coast Guard ship building. They acknowledge that the current budget is not realistic. (43:45)

The Coast Guard is now consistent in requesting $2B in the AC&I annually and a 5% annual increase in its operating budget and that we need 5,000 additional active duty billets and 1,100 addtional reservists. There was a statement from one of the Representatives to the effect, We need you to fight for yourselves (1h50:30). The representatives were informed that the 5 year, 20 year plans and unfunded will be delivered together (1:56)

My opinion: we need a regularly revised Fleet Mix Study. That in turn should feed directly into a 30 year ship and aircraft procurement plan

Webber Class WPCs: The Coast Guard is reportedly pushing WPCs operations down as far as the coast of South America. (50:00) This confirms my earlier speculation that these ships would be operated in what had been WMEC roles. Six cutters for CENTCOM The representative confirmed that they had approved procurement of six Webber class requested by CENTCOM. Apparently their approval was in the form of the Coast Guard reauthorization bill which has still not been made law. Adm. Ray stated that these would be in addition to the 58 currently planned (9:30) and it is not clear how or when they would be funded. Adm Stosz indicated it was not certain six Webber class would be the Coast Guard’s choice in how to fill this requirement and the question required more study. (1h11)(1h41m).

Shore Facilities: Reportedly there is a $1.6B shore construction backlog. $700M shore facilities maintenance backlog. Some infrastructure improvements that directly support new operational platforms.are being accomplished under the platform programs (55:00) The representatives asked, why we have asked for only $10M if the total shore facilities backlog is $2.3B?(1h35)

Icebreakers: The possibility of leasing the commercial icebreaker Aiviq is still being considered. (1h27) The owners have offered a plan for Ice trials and the Coast Guard has said it would be interested in observing. (1h29:50)

Great Lakes Icebreaker: Rep. Lewis brought up icebreaker for Great Lakes.Adm Ray says for now we will address with the existing fleet. (1h00:30) Priority is still Polar Ice Breakers.

eLoran: There seems to be considerable interest in eLoran to deal with GPS vulnerabilities. (1:22) The Navy League representative supported the need. The Re-Authorization Bill directs Secretary of Transportation to initiate E-Loran testing. There was a clear anticipation that the Coast Guard would support implementation.

Coast Guard Health Care: Looks like the Coast Guard heath care records system which reverted to paper now may be able to piggy back on the VA’s conversion to the DOD system. (1h25)/(1h32:30) There is currently a major gap in funding for medical care of CG retirees

A Better Armed Coast Guard: Not that the Representatives were specific, but there was a statement, “We want to weaponize you.” (5:55) I think I heard essentially a second time as well. I’m not sure what that means.

Rising Sea Levels: There was concern expressed regarding rising sea level and how they might impact shore facilities (1h12:20)

WMEC Service Life Extension: The Coast Guard was given money several years ago to plan a service life extension program for 270. The Congress has not seen or heard any result and they questioned, why delay? (1:09) See fig. 4 on page 17 of the GAO’s written testimony

Operating Expenses: Replacement ships are costing more.(26:25)(50:55). This is becoming problematic without an increase in operating budget.

Changing the way we buy ships: Included in the Reauthorization Bill are changes in the way the Coast Guard can fund its shipbuilding, putting us on par with the Navy (5:50)

Cyber: Budget includes 70 additional billets. (19:45)  What are we doing for the ports? (1h13:45)

Inland Tender Fleet: Budget includes $!M to investigate alternatives. (52:30) (1h19)

It is remarkable that there seemed to be no sentiment that the Coast Guard budget should be cut, while there was considerable evidence the Representatives believe the Coast Guard is underfunded.

Contract Award for FRC 39-44, Thoughts on Patrol Craft

Coast Guard Cutter Bailey Barco (WPC-1122) enters San Francisco Bay during the 6,200-mile trip from Key West, Florida, to its homeport in Ketchikan, Alaska, April 28, 2017. The cutter is the second fast response cutter based in Alaska. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

Following is quoted verbatim news from the Acquisitions Directorate (CG-9) Website.

Acquisition Update: Coast Guard Exercises Contract Option For FRCs 39-44

June 16, 2017

The Coast Guard awarded a $289 million contract option to Bollinger Shipyards of Lockport, Louisiana, June 9 for the production of six more fast response cutters (FRCs). This option award brings FRCs 39-44 under contract with Bollinger. The current FRC contract contains options for up to 58 cutters and is worth $1.5 billion if all options are exercised.

The Coast Guard is acquiring 58 FRCs to replace the 1980s-era Island-class 110-foot patrol boats. FRCs feature advanced command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance equipment; over-the-horizon cutter boat deployment to reach vessels of interest; and improved habitability and seakeeping. The cutters are designed for multiple missions, including drug and migrant interdiction; ports, waterways and coastal security; fishery patrols; search and rescue; and national defense.

Twenty-two FRCs are in service, with six stationed in Miami; six in Key West, Florida; six in San Juan, Puerto Rico; two in Cape May, New Jersey; and two in Ketchikan, Alaska. Future FRC homeports include: Pascagoula, Mississippi; Atlantic Beach, North Carolina; San Pedro, California; and Honolulu.

Note a few things:

  1. While this is not the total cost of the vessel, the shipyard cost is less than $48.2M. As I recall this is a decrease from previous buys, reflecting the maturity of the program and the decision to order six at a time.
  2. This is presumably FY2017 money and it leaves 14 vessels for future funding. Both the previous and current administration have consistently requested four or fewer vessels be funded, but the Congress has been fairly consistent in funding six per year. It seems likely the remaining 14 will be funded over the next three years. If so all 58 will be fully funded by FY2020.
  3. Bollinger is delivering at a rate of five per year. We just commissioned #22, so we can expect the last of the currently planned 58 in FY2024.
  4. The first three of the 87 foot Marine Protector class WPB were commissioned in 1998. It was 26 years from the commissioning of the first 110 to the commissioning of the first Webber class WPC. If there is a similar 26 year span from the first 87 footer to the commissioning of the first of its replacement class, we should see that boat come on line in FY2024, just as Webber class construction is ending. To make that happen, we need to start market research and planning in FY2021, the year after the last WPC is funded or FY2022 at the latest.
  5. There is talk of building six additional WPCs to replace the six 110s currently in Bahrain. I’ll have more on this later.

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.