Intercept That Drug Runner–Sorry, Not Enough Ships

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There have been several articles recently as a result of a breakfast meeting with reporters hosted by Air Force Gen. Douglas Fraser, chief of the U.S. Southern Command, reporting that SouthCom is intercepting only one in three drug shipments that they know about. He sited diversion of assets for combat operations in Afghanistan and Iraq, and operations off Libya, Somalia, and Iran.

One thing I found very curious, as noted in the AOL defense report, “Fraser focused on Navy vessels and did not specifically address the Coast Guard, which does contribute some ships to Southern Command operations.” Why the hell not?

The General reported a decline in our ability to intercept drug shipments.

At sea, Fraser explained, the U.S. Navy is retiring the smaller ships that have traditionally been the mainstay of drug interdiction patrols, the aging and increasingly expensive to operate Perry-class frigates, while their much-delayed replacement, the Littoral Combat Ships, is just beginning to enter service. “We ‘ll see a gap in the numbers of those types of ships,” Fraser said. “So we’re working with the Navy to see what other types of vessels and capability that’s coming back from Iraq might be available,” particularly small craft that have been used for river patrol and offshore patrol in the Gulf. Such boats could boost the U.S. fleet’s own interception capability but also, and perhaps more importantly, some could be transferred to friendly countries that are currently short on assets to intercept drug boats moving through their own territorial waters.

Nationaldefensemagazine.org also reported he made reference to the possibility of terrorists entering the US by using the drug smuggling routes.

There was much made of the lack of assets available to partner nations.

Here is a proposal, The Coast Guard still has 10 WHECs and 29 WMECs that are due for replacement. If we can get them replaced, we can turn them over to partner nations. That should essentially totally eliminate any shortage of vessels in SouthCom. The sooner we replace them the more useful they will be.

Why couldn’t the General have put in a good word for the Coast Guard?

Combating Transnational Organized Crime (TOC)

The Administration has recently published its “Strategy to Combat Transnational Organized Crime” (TOC).

There is commentary from Stewart M. Patrick at Council on Foreign Relations here and from Chris Rawley at Informationdissemination here.

This is certainly a topic that deserves some attention, particularly with the emergence of apparent links between terrorists, criminals, and hostile state actors.

The “strategy” is fairly long and general. It includes 56 “priority actions,” so once again we have decided to do everything everywhere–When you have 56 priorities, you have no priorities.

There is only one specific reference to the Coast Guard. In the section “Strategy to Combat Transnational Organized Crime: Strengthen Interdiction, Investigations, and Prosecutions,” the Coast Guard does not get a mention, although ICE, CBP, and Secret Service do.  It does include the following, as one of ten priority actions in this subsection, “Strengthen efforts to interdict illicit trafficking in the air and maritime domains.” for what that is worth. The section “Strategy to Combat Transnational Organized Crime: Disrupt Drug Trafficking and Its Facilitation of Other Transnational Threats” includes the following reference to the CG, “We must attack these organizations as close to the source as we can by forward deploying our law enforcement and intelligence assets. All-source intelligence is used by U.S. Coast Guard assets in the transit zone to extend our borders by interdicting and apprehending traffickers.” I’m not sure why that was in a strategy, but there seem to be examples of “good work” agencies are doing throughout the document that suggest this is more PR than an actionable plan.

The Section “Strategy to Combat Transnational Organized Crime: Start at Home: Taking Shared Responsibility for Transnational Organized Crime” which talks about efforts to stem the flow of guns south from the US to Mexico does raise the question in my own mind, Is the Coast Guard attempting to stop the shipment of weapons out of the US by sea?

The document has some interesting material. If it had a different title, I might have been less critical, but unfortunately this is not a strategy, which would have identified objectives, forces allocated, actions to be taken, and milestones to be achieved. There is no attempt to identify the enemy’s Center of Gravity or “Schwerpunkt.” This is just a series of laundry lists–of threats, programs that have had some success, things we hope to accomplish, and conferences to be held, without any application of judgment or priority.

 

Giving More than 100%–Part 2, Missions and Resource Hours

This is a continuation of a look at a report the Department of Homeland Security presented to Congress regarding Coast Guard mission performance begun in part one.

The report divides the Coast Guard’s 11 missions into Department of Homeland Security Missions and Non-Homeland Security missions as follows (percent of hours associated with each mission is in parenthesis):

Homeland security missions include:

  • Ports, Waterways, and Coastal Security (25.25%)
  • Drug Interdiction (11.22%)
  • Migrant Interdiction (10.60%)
  • Defense Readiness (7.82%)
  • Other Law Enforcement (foreign fisheries enforcement) (0.93%)

Non-Homeland Security Missions include:

  • Marine Safety (7.32%)
  • Search and Rescue (8.16%)
  • Aids-to-Navigation (14.05%)
  • Living Marine Resources (domestic fisheries enforcement) (13.12%)
  • Marine Environmental Protection (0.41%)
  • Ice Operations (1.12%)

The first thing you may notice is that the “Homeland Security Missions” were Coast Guard missions long before the creation of DHS.
This distinction is artificial. DHS seems fixated on terrorism. Once the DHS is reconciled to the fact that they are the department responsible for disaster prevention, response, and mitigation regardless of whether that disaster is natural, accidental, or a terrorist attack, then they will see that the remaining Coast Guard missions are also to some extent DHS missions.  (Notably the previous year when GAO testified before the Senate Subcommittee on Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries, and Coast Guard, Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation,  “Drug Interdiction” and “Other Law Enforcement” were listed as non-homeland security missions.)

Marine Safety and AtoN help prevent accidental disasters. Living Marine Resources and MEP help prevent environmental disasters. Any SAR case is at least a small scale disaster for those involved. SAR can be a major part of disaster mitigation as in the case of Katrina or Haiti. The SAR organization is the frequently the basis for post disaster communications. Even Ice Operations can mitigate the possibility of flooding by preventing the accumulation of water behind Ice dams that may release catastrophically–all good DHS missions.

As noted in part 1, the report seems to miss a signifiant part of the Coast Guard’s operation, but for now lets look at what it does show. We will look at Measures of effectiveness later.

General:

The report actually covers the entire period from 2001 to the present and compares current operations with a baseline established on the basis of eight quarters prior to 9/11. One important item is that although total resource hours declined since 2005, hours are still up considerably compared to pre-9/11 levels, up from a little less than 500,000 hours to 717,992 hours, so a decline in percentage doesn’t necessarily reflect a decline in activity.

Homeland Security Resource Hours:

Hours increased significantly as might be expected, 115%, from a baseline of a bit less than 200,000  to 400,742.

Ports, Waterways, and Coastal Security: By far the greatest percentage of hours (181,264 hours/25.25%) was taken by ports, waterways and coastal security missions. Resource utilization is up ten fold from the baseline after peaking in 2003/4/5.

  • So what are these Cutters and aircraft doing? Mostly patrolling.
  • Did we do patrolling before? Yes.
  • So if they saw an oil spill, a SAR case, or a suspected drug smuggler, would they ignore it? No.

So maybe we ought to add another 25.25% to MEP, another 25.25% to SAR, and another 25.25% to Drug interdiction. Still do we patrol enough? The vessel and aircraft related measures of effectiveness targets are being exceeded. But the targets are abominably low, considering we are dealing with events with potentially catastrophic consequences.

Drug Interdiction: Hours are down 34% from the pre-9/11 baseline from a little over 120,000 down to 80,564. Here we are getting substantial help from DOD but that doesn’t show up in the hours, and the efforts of our LEDETS, like those of the small boats, are also not reflected by the resource hour measure.

Undocumented Migrant Interdiction: Up more than 150%  to 76,100 hours. Reportedly we are achieving record high interdiction rates.

Defense Readiness: Hours are up considerably, to 56,128 hours or 7.82% but the baseline was ridiculously low at what looks like less than 7,000 hours or less than 300 unit days. The results have been poor with little improvement expected until the National Security Cutters and Fast Response Cutters replace the 378s and 110s.

Other Law Enforcement: (6,686 hours 0.93%) The number of hours has bounced around quite a bit by percentage (now 19.2% below the baseline). The entire effort is less than 280 unit days, but the service is exceeding its performance goal by a wide margin.

Non-homeland security

Non-Homeland Security hours (317,250 hours or 44.18%) dropped below the baseline in 2002/2003/2004 but are currently slightly above the baseline.

Search and Rescue: SAR Hours are down more than a quarter, from over 80,000 to 58,607 hours or 8.16%. Even so, we are meeting our performance objectives. SAR hours are demand driven. In 2005, hours were still below baseline, but bumped up 14.8% from 2004 as a result of Katrina. Hopefully we will be able to do more rescuing and less searching as a result of innovations like Rescue 21. The depressed economy may have a role here too.  If we were a SAR only organization we would have to fly or get underway just to train and maintain proficiency. As it is, much of the proficiency training is done working on other missions, so perhaps we should credit a few more percentage points to the hours we spend on SAR.

Marine Safety (52,579 hours 7.2%): The Coast Guard did not even report commitment of resource hours to Marine Safety before 2005. I’m still not sure what we are doing with this much cutter and aircraft time that effects the number of commercial mariner and commercials passenger deaths or injuries (two of the three measures of effectiveness) Most of these hours must go to Recreational Boating Safety (the third measure of effectiveness). This may be another way to count patrol hours.

Aids to Navigation: AtoN hours show a drop from the baseline of about 10% to 1000,904 hours, but it is still 14.05% of the current total. Improved reliability of aids appears to have made this possible without a drop in service.

Ice Ops (8,033 hours/1.12%): This category is primarily a reflection of ice conditions on the Great Lakes and navigable waterways that can fluctuate substantially year to year. It says very little about our Arctic capabilities, long in decline.

Living Marine Resources (94,178 hours/13.12%): Hours declined after 9/11 but now slightly exceed pre-9/11 baseline.

Marine Environmental Protection (MEP) (2,949 hours/0.41%): Like Marine Safety, MEP recorded no resource hours committed before 2005. Hours are down over 40% since 2005, but in FY2009 we exceeded our goals for prevention of chemicals and oil discharges per units shipped. There were no performance measures specifically related to safety of or pollution from offshore wells. I suspect most MEP work is not done by the cutters and aircraft included in this report, but that we will see a big increase in MEP hours when figures come out for FY2010. In the minds of most people, fisheries enforcement, both “Living Marine Resources” (domestic fisheries) and “Other Law Enforcement” (foreign fisheries) is a form of “Marine Environmental Protection.” Perhaps we need to group them with regulation of the chemical and petroleum industries and pollution clean-up under an expanded Marine Environmental Protection Program, so that there will be a better appreciation of what the service does.

Conclusion:

Traditional Coast Guard missions continue within the Department of Homeland Security. They have not been neglected.

For the Coast Guard to have gone from less than 500,000 resource hours to consistently over 700,000 hours, a more than 40% increase, when there has been no substantial increase in assets and as the average age of the assets increased has got to be a strain.

Coming in Part 3: Performance Measures and Where the Problems are.