“AUGMENT NAVAL FORCE STRUCTURE BY UPGUNNING THE COAST GUARD”–CIMSEC

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This is a post I wrote for CIMSEC for their “Distributed Lethality Week,” but their editor thought it would fit better in their “Naval Force Structure Week.” Had I known the topic, I might have spent more time on ASW. 

The Navy has been talking a lot about distributed lethality lately, and “if it floats, it fights.” There is even talk of mounting cruise missiles on Military Sealift Command (MSC) ships, even though it might compromise their primary mission. But so far there has been little or no discussion of extending this initiative to include the Coast Guard. The Navy should consider investing high-end warfighting capability in the Coast Guard to augment existing force structure and provide a force multiplier in times of conflict. A more capable Coast Guard will also be better able to defend the nation from asymmetrical threats.

Why Include the Coast Guard?

A future conflict may not be limited to a single adversary. We may be fighting another world war, against a coalition, perhaps both China and Russia, with possible side shows in Africa, the Near East, South Asia, and/or Latin America. If so, we are going to need numbers. The Navy has quality, but it does not have numbers. Count all the Navy CGs, DDGs, LCSs, PCs and PBs and other patrol boats and it totals a little over a hundred. The Coast Guard currently has over 40 patrol ships over 1,000 tons and over 110 patrol craft. The current modernization program of record will provide at least 33 large cutters, and 58 patrol craft of 353 tons, in addition to 73 patrol boats of 91 tons currently in the fleet, a total of 164 units. Very few of our allies have a fleet of similar size.

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Coast Guard 82 foot patrol boats interdicted coastal traffic off South Vietnam. (USCG Photo)

Coast Guard vessels routinely operate with U.S. Navy vessels. The ships have common equipment and their crews share common training. The U.S. Navy has no closer ally. Because of their extremely long range, cutters can operate for extended periods in remote theaters where there are few or even no underway replenishment assets. The Coast Guard also operates in places the USN does not. For example, how often do Navy surface ships go into the Arctic? The Coast Guard operates there routinely. Virtually all the U.S. vessels operating with the Fourth Fleet are Coast Guard. There are also no U.S. Navy surface warships home based north of the Chesapeake Bay in the Atlantic, none between San Diego and Puget Sound in the Pacific, and none in the Gulf of Mexico with the exception of mine warfare ships.

In the initial phase of a conflict, there will be need to round-up all the adversaries’ merchant ships and keep them from doing mischief. Otherwise they might lay mines, scout for or resupply submarines, put agents ashore, or even launch cruise missiles from containers. This is not the kind of work we want DDGs doing. It is exactly the type of work appropriate for Coast Guard cutters. Coast Guard ships enjoy a relatively low profile. Unlike a Carrier Strike Group or Navy SAG, they are less likely to be tracked by an adversary.

If we fight China in ten to twenty years, the conflict will likely open with China enjoying  local superiority in the Western Pacific and perhaps in the Pacific in general. If we fight both China and Russia it may be too close to call.

Platforms

The National Security Cutter (NSC)

This class of at least nine and possibly ten, 418 foot long, CODAG powered, 28 knot ships, at 4,500 tons full load, are slightly larger than Perry-class frigates. Additionally they have a 12,000 nautical mile cruising range. As built they are already equipped with:

  • Navy certified helicopter facilities and hangar space to support two H-60 helicopters,
  • A 57 mm Mk110 gun,
  • SPQ-9B Fire Control Radar
  • Phalanx 20mm Close in Weapon System (CIWS)
  • SRBOC/ 2 x NULKA countermeasures chaff/rapid decoy launcher,
  • AN/SLQ-32 Electronic Warfare System,
  • EADS 3D TRS-16 AN/SPS-75 Air Search Radar,
  • A combat system that uses Aegis Baseline 9 software,
  • A Sensitive Compartmented Intelligence Facility (SCIF)

In short, they are already equipped with virtually everything needed for a missile armed combatant except the specific missile related equipment. They are in many respects superior to the Littoral Combat Ships. Adding Cooperative Engagement Capability might even allow a Mk41 equipped cutter to effectively launch Standard missiles targeted by a third party.

USCG National Security Cutter BERTHOLF (USCG Photo)
USCG National Security Cutter BERTHOLF (USCG Photo)

The ships were designed to accept 12 Mk56 VLS which launch only the Evolved Sea Sparrow missiles (ESSM). Additionally, the builder, Huntington Ingalls, has shown versions of the class equipped with eight Mk41 VLS (located between the gun and superstructure) plus eight Harpoon, and Mk32 torpedo tubes (located on the stern). Adding missiles to the existing hulls should not be too difficult.

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LRASM topside launcher concept. The size and weight are comparable to launchers for Harpoon. (Lockheed Martin photo)

The Mk41 VLS are more flexible in that they can accommodate cruise missiles, rocket boosted antisubmarine torpedoes (ASROC), Standard missiles, or Evolved Sea Sparrow missiles (ESSM). Using the Mk41 VLS would allow a mix of cruise missiles and ESSM with four ESSMs replacing each cruise missile, for example eight cells could contain four cruise missiles and 16 ESSM, since ESSM can be “quad packed” by placing four missiles in each cell. Development of an active homing ESSM is expected to obviate the need for illuminating radars that are required for the semi-active homing missiles. Still, simpler deck mounted launchers might actually offer some advantages, in addition to their lower installation cost, at least in peacetime.

Cutters often visit ports where the population is sensitive to a history of U.S. interference in their internal affairs. In some cases, Coast Guard cutters are welcome, while U.S. Navy ships are not. For this reason, we might want to make it easy for even a casual observer to know that the cutter is not armed with powerful offensive weapons. Deck mounted launchers can provide this assurance, in that it is immediately obvious if missile canisters are, or are not, mounted. The pictures below show potential VLS to be considered.

The relatively small footprint of the Mk56 VLS system (pdf) can be seen here on a Danish Absalon-class command and support ship (beam 64 feet, by comparison the National Security Cutters’ beam is 54 feet). Two sets are visible in the foreground, one set of twelve with missile canisters with red tops in place to the right, on the ship’s centerline, and a second set of twelve without canisters to the left. The Absalon-class has three twelve-missile sets, with the third set off camera to the right. (Royal Danish Navy)
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12 earlier Mk48 mod3 VLS for ESSM seen here mounted on the stern of a 450 ton 177 foot Danish StanFlex300 Flyvefisken-class patrol boat. The Mk56 launchers replace the Mk48s with an approximate 20% weight savings.
The Offshore Patrol Cutter (OPC)

The OPC  program of record for provides 25 of these ships. A contract has been awarded to Eastern Shipbuilding Group for detail design and construction of the first ship, with options for eight more. The notional design is 360 feet long, with a beam of 54 feet and a draft of 17 feet. The OPCs will have a sustained speed of 22.5 knots, a range of 10,200 nautical miles (at 14 knots), and an endurance of 60-days. It’s hangar will accommodate one MH-60 or an MH-65 and an Unmanned Air System (UAS).

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Notional design characteristics and performance of the OPC. (USCG Image)

It will have a space for a SCIF but it is not expected to be initially installed. As built, it will have a Mk38 stabilized 25 mm gun in lieu of the Phalanx carried by the NSC. Otherwise, the Offshore Patrol Cutter will be equipped similarly to the National Security Cutter. It will likely have the same Lockheed Martin COMBATSS-21 combat management system as the LCS derived frigates. It is likely they could be fitted with cruise missiles and possibly Mk56 VLS for ESSM as well. Additionally these ships will be ice strengthened, allowing the possibility of taking surface launched cruise missiles into the Arctic

The Fast Response Cutter (FRC)

The FRC program of record is to build 58 of these 158 foot, 28 knot, 365 ton vessels. 19 have been delivered and they are being built at a rate of four to six per year. All 58 are now either built, building, contracted, or optioned. They are essentially the same displacement as the Cyclone class PCs albeit a little slower, but with better seakeeping and a longer range. Even these small ships have a range of 2,950 nm. They are armed with Mk 38 mod2 25 mm guns and four .50 caliber M2 machine guns.

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The first Sentinel-class Fast Response Cutter (FRC), USCGC Bernard C. Webber. (USCG photo)

They are already better equipped than the Coast Guard 82 foot patrol boats that were used for interdiction of covert coastal traffic during the Vietnam war. If they were to be used to enforce a blockade against larger vessels, they would need weapons that could forcibly stop medium to large vessels.

The Marine Protector Class

There are 73 of these 87 foot, 91 ton, 26 knot patrol boats. Four were funded by the Navy and provide force protectionservices for Submarines transiting on the surface in and out of King Bay, GA and Bangor, WA.

File:US Navy 090818-N-1325N-003 U. S. Coast Guardsmen man the rails as the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Sea Fox (WPB 87374) is brought to life at Naval Base Kitsap.jpg
Photo: KEYPORT, Wash. (Aug. 18, 2009) U. S. Coast Guardsmen man the rails as the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Sea Fox (WPB 87374), one of four of this class assigned to Force Protection units. (U.S. Navy photo Ray Narimatsu/Released)

If use of these vessels for force protection were to be expanded to a more hostile environment, they would likely need more than the two .50 caliber M2 machine guns currently carried.  The four currently assigned to force protection units are currently equipped with an additional stabilized remote weapon station.

Weapons

Cruise Missiles

The U.S. Navy currently has or is considering four different surface launched cruise missiles: Harpoon, Naval Strike Missile (NSM), Long Range Anti-Ship Missile (LRASM), and Tomahawk. Of these, LRASM appears most promising for Coast Guard use. Tomahawk is the largest of the four and both Harpoon and NSM would be workable, but they do not have the range of LRASM. The intelligence and range claimed for the LRASM not only makes it deadlier in wartime, it also means only a couple of these missiles on each of the Coast Guard’s largest cutters would allow  the Coast Guard’s small, but widely distributed force to rapidly and effectively respond to asymmetric threats over virtually the entire U.S. coast as well as compliment the U.S. Navy’s efforts to complicate the calculus of a near-peer adversary abroad

Small Precision Guided Weapons

It is not unlikely that Fast Response Cutters will replace the six 110 foot patrol boats currently based in Bahrain. If cutters are to be placed in an area where they face a swarming threat they will need the same types of weapons carried or planned for Navy combatants to address this threat. These might include the Sea Griffin used on Navy’s Cyclone-class PCs or Longbow Hellfires planned for the LCS.

Additionally, a small number of these missiles on Coast Guard patrol craft would enhance their ability to deal with small, fast, highly maneuverable threats along the U.S. coast and elsewhere

Light Weight Anti-Surface Torpedoes 

If Coast Guard units, particularly smaller ones, were required to forcibly stop potentially hostile merchant ships for the purposes of a blockade, quarantine, embargo, etc. they would need something more that the guns currently installed.

The U.S. does not currently have a light weight anti-surface torpedo capable of targeting a ship’s propellers, but with Elon Musk building a battery factory that will double the worlds current capacity and cars that out accelerate Farraris, building a modern electric small anti-surface torpedo should be easy and relatively inexpensive.

Assuming they have the same attributes of ASW torpedoes, at about 500 pounds these weapons take up relatively little space. Such a torpedo would also allow small Coast Guard units to remain relevant against a variety of threats.

Conclusion

Adding cruise missile to the Coast Guard National Security Cutters and Offshore Patrol Cutters would increase the number of cruise missile-equipped U.S .surface ships by about 40 percent.

Coast Guard Patrol craft (WPCs) and patrol boats (WPBs) significantly outnumber their Navy counterparts. They could significantly increase the capability to deal with interdiction of covert coastal traffic, act as a force multiplier in conventional conflict, and allow larger USN ships to focus on high-end threats provided they are properly equipped to deal with the threats. More effective, longer ranged, and particularly more precise weapons could also improve the Coast Guard’s ability to do it Homeland security mission.

Thanks to OS2 Michael A. Milburn for starting the  conversation that lead to this article.

Three New Ships for Norwegian Coast Guard

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KV Nordkapp, lead ship of a class of three which will be replaced. Photo by Marcusroos

The Barents Observer reports Norway is ordering three new icebreaking cutters for the Norwegian Coast Guard which will replace the Nordkap class.

I note the Nordkapp class looks like they could have been a contender for the OPC contract–3.200 tons, 345 ft (105 meters) long, ice strengthened, helo deck and hangar, 22 knots, 57mm gun, plus hull mounted sonar and provision for adding Penguin ASCMs and ASW torpedoes. The new ships may end up looking a lot like the OPC.

WPB Replacement?

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Inevitably the CG will want to replace its Marine Protector class WPBs. MarineLog reports construction of a class that look like something that might be considered. Yes, they are bigger than the existing WPBs, but at 35 meters (115′) vice 47 meters (154′), they are significantly smaller than the Webber class. Even so they can make 29 knots and have provision for an 8 meter RHIB.

Timely Actions Needed to Address Risks in Using Rotational Crews–GAO

Waesche Carat 2012

The GAO has recently issued a report, “Coast Guard, Timely Actions Needed to Address Risks in Using Rotational Crews” (pdf) which discusses the “Crew Rotation Concept” (CRC) which has been part of the proposed National Security Cutter (NSC) program for at least a decade, but never tested. I believe there has also been discussion of using it on the Offshore Patrol Cutter as well.

This is perhaps the last, worst vestige of the Deep Water program.

First there is this explanation of the expectations of the plan from an Acquisitions Directorate web page that has since been taken down.

“Initially, the Coast Guard will employ four crews for three NSCs at a single homeport, rotating the cutters among the crews to limit crew PERSTEMPO to 185 days while maintaining each cutter’s operational tempo (OPTEMPO) at 230 days. The three-cutter, four-crew prototype will be evaluated in 2009 through an operational testing-and-evaluation process. Policy and procedures for CRC are based on the lessons learned by the Coast Guard and the U.S. Navy, as well as consideration of the recommendations made by auditors from the Government Accountability Office.”

Please forgive me for quoting myself but I feel the need to repeat some calculations from a post from 2010.

First assuming the projections are correct, we are replacing 12 ships which would provide 2,220 operating days with eight ships that will provide at best 1,840 so we are already two ships short.

Then you will also note that the presumption is that the ships will be operated in groups of three from the same home port, but there are only eight ships planned, meaning there will be a rump group of two somewhere. Will they be operated by three crews or by a single crew per ship?

What we hope to save here is acquisition cost, because the operating costs per op day cannot be lowered by this strategy and will actually be higher. I don’t know the projected life cycle costs for the National Security cutters, but in general, I’ve heard that the acquisition costs for similar systems is about 15% of the life cycle cost. Fuel and personnel costs are the real driver. Fuel costs should be the same per op day. Personnel costs will actually be higher, since each crew under the multi-crewing concept will only provide 172.5 op days instead of 185, so personnel costs will be 7.25% higher.

In addition, because the ship will only be in port 135 days a year instead of 180, there will be fewer opportunities for the crew to make repairs. These repairs, normally done by the crew, will have to be done by contractors at additional costs.

I would also note that the acquisition costs we hope to save actually decline as we add more ships. Four additional units are likely to cost far less on the average than the first 8. There is also the long term value of having four additional ships in hand if the country should need them in the future.

Frankly I don’t think we will see any significant savings from this manning approach and it may actually cost us in the long run.

If a truly convincing argument can be made for the concept, I would like to see it. And if the argument involves lower overhead because we get more “mission” op days compared to RefTra day, remember the reason we go, is to train the crews, not the ships, so every crew will needs to go.

As I noted above three into eight does not make for three ship groups. At that time, I thought it would be two ports with three ships and one with two, but in fact, apparently the intention is now two in Charleston, two in Honolulu, and four in Alameda, so it is three ships nowhere.

I am a little surprised the testing has not already started. After all we have had three ships in Alameda for three years now.

As far as I can tell, rotating multiple crews among multiple ships has never worked out. More here and here. We have certainly had the opportunity to test the concept on simpler platforms, but it has yet to be attempted in earnest. Frankly I think everyone knows this is not going to work, but they have just been pushing facing the embarrassing truth off into the future.

There may be viable alternatives to swapping out entire crews. In fact, apparently crews of existing NSCs have been augmented to allow them to provide 210 days away from Homeport. Actually nine augmented ships, U/W 210 days a year, would provide more availability (1890 days) than eight multi-crewed ships U/W 230 days a year (1840 days) but they would still not reach the level provided by twelve un-augmented ships (2220 days).

Unlike wine, bad news does not get better with age. It is time to bit the bullet. Try CRC or find an alternative. If it doesn’t work, well it was really someone else’s idea after all.

Guided 57mm Round Being Developed

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Navy Recognition reports that BAE is developing a laser or image recognition guided round for the Mk110 57mm gun that equips the Bertholf Class, National Security Cutter (NSC) and is expected to equip the Offshore Patrol Cutter in addition to the two classes of Littoral Combat Ships.

It is referred to as “Ordnance for Rapid Kill of Attack Craft or ORKA (technical designation: MK295 MOD 1).” Which seems to indicate it is not an anti-aircraft round.

Guided rounds are already available for larger caliber weapons. Guess we will have to wait a while to see if it is actually any cheaper than a guide missile like Griffin or Hellfire. We already know the launcher is not cheaper.

Defense News Interviews the Commandant

DefenseNews.Com just posted a three part video interview with the Commandant. Each segment is five to ten minutes in length.

Impact of Sequestration: http://www.defensenews.com/videos/defense-news/2015/03/01/24221471/

The Commandant notes, in the first two months of 2015 we have seized more drugs than we seized in all of 2013. He talks about establishing priorities and specifically mentions the Arctic and Western Hemisphere Drug enforcement.  He did not say what will drop out.

Capability vs Affordability http://www.defensenews.com/videos/defense-news/2015/03/01/24221423/

The Commandant has quite properly put emphasis on the OPC, and he has hit the point that spreading out procurement will cost more in the long run. He talked about icebreakers and discussed how we will need help funding them. He is pushing the results of the previous High Latitude study, saying the US needs three heavy and three medium icebreakers.

Coast Guard Modernization http://www.defensenews.com/videos/defense-news/2015/03/01/24221467/

Here he repeated themes from the State of the Coast Guard address. The importance of defending against Cyber attacks both within the Coast Guard and in the larger Maritime Transportation industry, the formation of an Arctic CG forum, and making the Coast Guard a hostile environment for those that might attempt sexual assault.

Observations

Seems the Commandant has recognized the need to sell the service and push for more funding, particularly for AC&I. It would not hurt to see the rest of the Coast Guard repeating the themes that he seems to have focused on, to make sure the message gets delivered.

The Commandant will continue to focus on the six major topics he highlighted in the State of the Coast Guard Address. Specifically I expect to see a lot more Coast Guard effort in the Eastern Pacific Transit Zone; we will continue to hear that the US needs three heavy and three medium icebreakers as the Commandant pushes for supplemental icebreaker funding; less obvious, but I think he is laying the ground work for an attempt to speed up the OPC construction schedule which would require at least another $500M annually in the AC&I account. There will be a lot more emphasis on cyber and tougher action on sexual assault. In terms of the objective of “maximizing return on investment,” I think we will see closer examination of fuel efficiency, manning, and other operating economies as a basis for where to invest modernization dollars.

Navy Chooses Existing LCS Designs as Basis for Small Surface Combatant

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Photo: A modified Littoral Combat Ship design based on the Lockheed Martin Freedom-class. US Navy Image. Click on the image to enlarge. Note the USNI post also includes an image of a modified Independence class LCS

USNI is reporting that the existing Littoral Combat Ship designs will be modified to become the new Small Surface Combatant. It is not clear if they mean they will continue to build two designs in parallel, or if they mean they will select only one of the two. Perhaps there will be a competitive bid.

In spite of apparently incorporating all the elements of both the anti-submarine and anti-surface modules plus over-the-horizon Anti-Ship Cruise Missiles, it is reported they will have a lighter displacement than the existing LCSs. Surprisingly they apparently will not include VLS, but will include a multi-function towed array sonar, over the horizon ASCMs, upgraded radars, EW, and Cruise Missile decoy systems, torpedo countermeasures, a Mk38 Mod2 25 mm, and additional armor, in addition to the Mk110 57mm, two Mk46 30mm, Hellfire, MQ-8 UAVs and HM-60 helicopters. Both designs will use SeaRAM.

The question for the Coast Guard now is, how much commonality with this new class can be incorporated into the Offshore Patrol Cutter either as equipment actually installed or as equipment fitted for but not with? The more commonality that can be achieved, the more supportable the ships will be over the long haul.

The world seems to be becoming a more dangerous place, where the US may need every warship it can muster. We cannot afford the luxury of building the OPCs without wartime potential.