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.

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.


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.

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)
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).


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.


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.


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.


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.

International Maritime Partnerships

Thought some of you might be interested in this short explanation of the standing Combined Maritime Forces (CMF) Task Forces 150, 151 and 152, that include Coast Guard members in addition to naval forces of 26 nations. These task force are intended to counter terrorism (150) and piracy (151) and to provide security in the Persian (Arabian) Gulf (152).


Fish Laundering

When you sit down to add that much need Omega-3 to your diet, do you ask where the fish came from. The US and the EU have signed an agreement that is intended to track the origin of fish brought to market in an attempt to combat a form of “piracy,” taking fish illegally form poorly protected stocks.

I suspect one of the poorly protected stocks is in the US western Pacific EEZ and the Federated States of Micronesia.

Real Narco Subs?

Of course we know there have been attempts to use true submersibles to transport cocaine, but this is the first I’ve heard of an effort to find them at sea. From http://defensetech.org/:

“Calling them “third-generation” Narco-subs, Adm. James Stavridis, supreme NATO commander said during a speech this week in Arlington, Va., that the U.S. and its allies in Latin America are using P-3s to hunt these actual submarines which have communications suites that rival some modern military subs.”


The article goes on to raise a good question, “All this begs the question, even if you can find a submarine from the sky, how do you know 100 percent who it belongs without getting it to surface? How do you get the vessel to surface for inspection during peacetime without serious kinetic action? Do authorities simply track the vessel and wait for it to arrive at its destination before moving into arrest the smugglers?”

(Thanks again to Lee for the topic)

France & Australia Cooperate on Fisheries Enforcement in the South Pacific

“Australia and France will step up patrols for illegal fishing in the Southern Ocean under a new agreement signed by the two countries…French patrols will also include Australian fisheries officers, and Australian vessels will carry French officers so that each country is able to apply the laws of the other to offenders.”

France and Australia have the second and third largest EEZs in the world after the US.

Thanks to Mike Colombaro at http://combatfleetoftheworld.blogspot.com/ for the link.

If We Needed Non-Combatant Evac of Korea?

An article in the Atlantic raises the possibility of a sudden requirement to evacuate American citizens (by one count 140,000) and other non-combatants, in case the Korean war suddenly turns hot. The authors go so far as to suggest China might have a role.

At the moment this seems unlikely, but things could change fast

Certainly, if it happens, whatever is available will be inadequate and the Coast Guard might have a role to play, both in providing assets (both ships and aircraft) and exploiting its liaison with counterpart organizations in Asia (even the Russians might help).

Something that might be worth thinking about.

Indian CG Building Ships, Buying Helos, Domain Awareness

There has been a lot of news about the Indian Coast Guard lately. India is rapidly its Coast Guard, spurred on by the experience of the Mumbai attack.
FOR MARITIME PATROL: ‘Vijit', an Offshore Patrol Vessel developed by Goa Shipyard Ltd. for the Coast Guard, will be commissioned on Saturday.

Yesterday they commissioned the Vijit (OPV31), a 310 ft Offshore Patrol Vessel (OPV), 1,800 tons, with 30 mm cannon, helo deck and hanger, and a maximum speed of 26 knots. This is the second ship of a class of three. The first ship of the class, ICGS Vishwast (OPV 30) was entered service March 17.
Another, larger vessel, the Sumitra (seen below), 2,300 tons, 76 mm and two 30 mm, helo deck and hanger was launched Dec 6. She is the forth ship of her class.
There are indications the Indians will soon contract for another six OPVs. So currently the Indian Coast Guard has 18 Offshore Patrol Vessels, they have two under construction, and the apparent intent to add six more. The oldest entered service in December 1983. In addition they are building three 3,300 ton polloution  control vessels, and the Indian Navy has six ships specifically designed to patrol the EEZ that are half sisters of one of the Coast Guard classes.
The size of India’s patrol force compares favorably with our own. Conservatively assuming 20 ships, dividing India’s EEZ 2,305,143 sq km by 20 OPVs the ratio is 115, 257 sq km/OPV compared to the ratio for the US (12,174,629 sq km EEZ/43 OPVs) of 283,181 sq km/OPV.
They have also issued Requests for Information (RFI) as a step toward procurement of 16 six point five ton, max take off weight (MTOW) helicopters for shipboard use and 14 twelve ton MTOW helicopters for use from both shore and ships. “The RFIs require the (sic) both types of helicopters to have hard points for gun mounts that can take both 7.62mm and 12.7mm guns. It also wants the shore-based helicopters to be able to integrate 20/30mm cannons.”
They have also recently awarded a $16M contract to SAAB to supply a coastal surveillance system for the entire 7400-kilometer long Indian coast. Its not clear what they are getting for this, but it is part of a general improvement of their domain awareness and coordination between agencies.

China Building Six Major Cutters a Year–How many are Enough?

China Defense Blog is reporting “In order to improve the capacity of marine law enforcement and safeguard marine rights, China plans to build 30 vessels for marine law enforcement in the next five years.” The source is here, but the blog has pictures, as well the complete text, while the source has none.

I found this quotation puzzling:

“China has a vast area of seas, but the number and the tonnage of vessels for marine law enforcement are both small. China’s fleet does not meet the standard of one vessel per 1,000 square kilometers (emphasis applied) and there is a huge gap compared to other developed countries, said Li Lixin, director of South China Sea Branch of State Oceanic Administration of China, on Monday.”

For comparison, from Wikipedia:

The US has the largest EEZ in the world: 11,351,000 sq km

Japan EEZ: 4,479,358 sq km

China’s EEZ is much smaller, 877,019 sq km. Even adding the EEZ of Taiwan and other areas claimed by China, but disputed by others (3,000,000 sq km) the total is 3,877,019 sq km.

Applying a one patrol vessel to 1,000 sq km would mean the USCG should have 11,351 cutters. In fact we have 43 patrol cutters over 1000 tons or about 1 per 264,000 sq km. If the Chinese had a ship to patrol area ratio like ours, they would only need three or four ships. Clearly there is a disconnect here.

We talked a bit about a comparison of the Japanese Coast Guard and their Chinese counterparts here, and it is clearly the Japanese they are comparing themselves to.  There is a pretty good article on the various agencies the Chinese use to do maritime law enforcement missions here.

The other nations with the largest EEZs are Australia, France, Russia. Japan, with the 9th largest EEZ, has the largest fleet of cruising cutters in the world. China’s EEZ is 32nd in size.

Still I think the Chinese may be on to something in terms of justifying their fleet. Maybe we ought to do some sort of resource to area of responsibility comparison. We know that our EEZs in the Southwest Pacific and Arctic are under served.

India on the Challenges of Guarding the Coast

The Indians have had a lot of incentive to secure their maritime borders since the terrorist attack on Mumbai of November 26, 2008, an event they refer to as 26/11 just as we refer to 9/11. The success of this attack was a direct result of a failure of their Navy and Coast Guard. For more information on how the attack developed, including the murder of two Indian Coast Guard boarding officers, go here. Since the attack, India has embarked on a program to triple the size of their Coast Guard, a component of the Ministry of Defense that grew out of the Navy in 1978.

The Hindustan Times reports of an interview with Vice-Admiral Sanjeev Bhasin, flag officer commanding in chief of the Western Naval Command, provides and update on their efforts.

…securing India’s western coast is the Navy’s biggest challenge. The threat perception of terrorists using the sea route, as they did for 26/11, has increased.

“India has a huge coastline, stretching 7,600 km, and we have island territories as well. We, along with the Coast Guard, have fortified patrolling. But there are grey areas where [unauthorised] landings can be carried out because the state governments concerned had not kept them under surveillance till 26/11 occurred.”A detailed plan has been chalked out with the Coast Guard and the Director General of Lighthouses to revive lighthouses and set up 30 radar stations along the western coast.

“Trials of two such radar stations have started at Okha and Kandla in Gujarat.

“The Navy has found it tough to monitor fishing boats. This is a weakness identified [and exploited] by the terrorists. About 30,000 fishing boats are registered in Gujarat, 20,000 in Maharashtra, 20,000 in Karnataka and 2,000 in Goa.

“Radar stations fitted with the Automatic Identification System (AIS) have been planned along the coast.

“AIS devices will also be installed on these vessels. It is a massive problem and it cannot be taken care of only by the Navy and Coast Guard.

“We need fishermen’s cooperation; we want them to be our eyes and ears. They have been very cooperative.”


This tread has some interesting photos of modern icebreakers. Hopefully someone is thinking about this topic in the context of what our new construction icebreakers will look like.

The US does have a couple of ice capable research vessels that are referred to in the tread that I had not been aware of, the 94 meter (310 foot) icebreaker R/V Nathaniel B. Palmer, built in 1992,

Nathaniel B. Palmer in sea ice

and the 76 meter (251 foot) ice-strengthened (Ice class ABS A1) RV Laurence M. Goul,  built in 1997. Both were built by Edison Chouest Offshore Inc., Galliano, Louisiana,

L.M. Gould in Arthur Harbor

(Thanks, Steve, for the link)