New Budget Cancels Plan for Last Two NSCs

File:USCGC Waesche by Yerba Buena Island.jpg

U.S. Coast Guard photo ID: 100228-G-2129M-004, by Petty Officer 3rd Class Kevin Metcalf is reporting that while the FY 2013 budget request would fund the sixth National Security Cutter, additional purchases would be delayed while the Department reevaluates its needs.

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said yesterday that the reason for proposing a pause in the NSC program is due to budget constraints as well as examining how it fits with the Navy’s plans.

“We will look at [NSC’s] seven and eight in light of what the Navy is doing,” Napolitano told the House Appropriations Homeland Security Subcommittee during a hearing to examine her department’s budget request. “So we need to look at what the DoD is doing with respect to their own force lay down to see what we need to be putting in the acquisition pipeline.”

Presumably this ties in with the Navy’s review of their own programs.

It has been recognized for a long time that current plans would require a substantial increase in AC&I funding. The GAO has called the program of record “unachievable.”

While I certainly applaud coordination with DOD, this could mean a lot of different things.

Will the Navy try to move the Littoral Combat Ship program to the CG as replacement for the OPC?

Will the Navy try to avoid cutting their building programs further by suggesting that the CG does not need large ships for drug enforcement because they will supply platforms for CG boarding teams? or

This might not be so bad. When Under Secretary of the Navy Robert O. Work  discusses American Sea Power, he almost never fails to mention the contribution of the Coast Guard. Perhaps some additional thought will go into how possible military roles should be reflected in the requirements for Offshore Patrol Cutters (OPC), Icebreakers, and other assets.

An OPC that  reflects military requirements would almost certainly be larger and more capable than one designed only to meet peacetime requirements that might otherwise have been forced on the CG in an austere budget climate. Those greater capabilities probably would also make it a more capable CG asset in peacetime.

The differences might include a larger hull, more speed, better aviation facilities, and better communications and sensors, possibly including a towed array that would be useful for detecting drug subs (both true subs and self propelled semi-submersibles).

Its not clear yet, if this is a disaster or an opportunity. Perhaps a new way of justifying CG assets will come out of this, and the government will see that putting money in the CG is a sound investment.

What Might Coast Guard Cutters do in Wartime? Part 2, Coast Guard Roles

This is the second of two parts. The first part focusing on what I believe are the current shortfalls in the US Navy force structure is here.

Since part one, additional cuts to the Navy’s plans have been announce. Attack submarines which have an important ASW role are now expected to decline from a current 55 to 40 in 2030 and all SSGNs will be removed from service. Additionally the Navy will prematurely retire seven cruisers and two amphibious warfare ships. The planned five year building program is going from 57 ships to 41.

Now we will look more closely at what Coast Guard Cutters may be called upon to do in future conflicts, what changes to our existing force might be prudent, and desirable characteristics for future cutters. Continue reading

What Might Coast Guard Cutters do in Wartime? Part 1, Navy Shortfalls

Many of the new generation cutters may be around for another 50 years so it is likely they will see some conflict as previous generations have. What might cutters be doing if we go to war? What sort of environments? What possible missions? What capabilities do they have? And what might we want to be added?

We need to start with the question, what limitations does the Navy have that might prompt them to call on the Coast Guard? Why would the US Navy, by far the most powerful in the world, need help from the Coast Guard? Let’s look at their missions and the forces available.

Navy Missions

The mission of the Navy is to maintain, train and equip combat-ready Naval forces capable of winning wars, deterring aggression and maintaining freedom of the seas.

Included in that might be:

Protecting the US and its allies from attack from the sea in any of a number of forms, overt or covert, by air, surface, sub-surface, or missiles (both cruise and ballistic).

Projecting power against hostile forces, by a similar diverse range of options.

Protecting US and friendly nations’ use of the oceans and the air above them for purposes including (but not limited to) both military and economic exploitation.

Denying that use to hostile powers.

Those objectives entail a huge range of subsidiary tasks. New missions, like defending population centers against ballistic missile attacks, have been added, but centuries old historic missions still must also be addressed.


The Navy currently has approximately 285 vessels, but not all these are combatant ships. The exact composition changes frequently but they have roughly:

  • 2 Fleet command ships
  • 11 aircraft carriers (there is talk that this may go down to 9. In the not to distant past 15 was the norm)
  • 28 Amphipbious assault ships (LHA/LHD/LPD/LSD)
  • 83 Guided missile Cruisers and Destroyers
  • 26 Frigates (soon to be decommissioned)
  • 2 Littoral Combat ships (LCS) (55 ships planned, expected to replace remaining frigates, the 14 mine countermeasures ships, and the 11 Cyclone class patrol craft)
  • 57 SSN and SSGN submarines armed with torpedoes and tactical missiles
  • 14 SSBN Strategic Defense Ballistic Missile submarines
  • 14 Mine Counter Measures Ships (MCM) (soon to be decommissioned)
  • 11 Cyclone Class Patrol Craft
  • 37 Underway replenishment ships

This is the fewest ships in the US Navy in almost a hundred years. Additionally in view of current budget limitations the size of the fleet is likely to shrink further. Nine cruisers and three LSDs are expected to be decommissioned including some as young as 20 years old, and since the “super committee” has failed to act, the entire LCS program may be in jeopardy, and the fleet may be reduce to approximately 230 ships.

Even if its budget is not cut, if it only remains static, the fact that ship prices are going up faster than inflation, and the Navy is choosing to concentrate more and more technology in fewer and fewer ships means the number of ships will likely continue to fall.


Most of these ships are individually superbly capable, but the US Navy has some known weakness.

  • Inshore
  • Mine Counter Measures (MCM)
  • Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW)
  • Naval Surface Fire Support (NSFS)
  • Sea Control
  • Base Security

INSHORE: The Navy has very few shallow draft patrol craft of a type useful for boarding and  inspecting coastwise traffic. This is why the Coast Guard has been in Iraq, and why 82s were sent to Vietnam. Fortunately recent requirements have been small because the Iraqi coast line is short. Almost anywhere else, controlling coastal traffic will be much more difficult.

MCM: Despite the fact that since WWII, mines have done more damage to US Navy ships than any other weapon, the US Navy’s MCM capability is modest and generally regarded as both more poorly equipped and less professional than their European counterparts. The LCS program has been expected to address this, but the mine countermeasures systems planned for the LCS are still a long way from maturity. Still the concept of add-on, portable, modular systems is appealing.

ASW: Anti-submarine Warfare capabilities were allowed to decline after the collapse of the Soviet Union. This was understandable under the circumstances, but now the ASW problem is reemerging. Historically ASW has been a “numbers” problem as well as a quality problem. Certainly the US Navy has the quality, but they no longer have large numbers. Not only is the number of escort vessels down dramatically including the impending total disappearance of specialized ASW escorts, carriers no longer have fixed wing ASW aircraft, and Maritime patrol aircraft numbers are way down. Reserve fleets have disappeared and additionally, allied fleets have also declined even more precipitously.

NSFS: Since the decommissioning of the Iowa Class battleships, there has been concern that there has not been enough Naval Surface Fire Support (NSFS) assets. This concern went as far as resulting in a Congressional mandate (Section 1011 of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 1996 (Public Law 104-106; 110 Stat. 421)). There have been several attempts to address this need including putting NLOS missiles on the LCS ships and a plan to build 32 “Land Attack” Zumwalt Class Destroyers with advanced gun systems. The NLOS missile has been canceled and the Zumwalt class has been truncated at only three ships. In a benign environment close air support can fill this void, but if there is an active air defense or air superiority is contested, NSFS may be essential.

SEA CONTROL: Julian Corbett was the disciple of Sea Control and as he would say, Battle force ships make sea control possible, but cannot be exercised by “battleships” alone. There is the question of simple numbers.  At the end of WWII the Navy had 6,768 ships, including 1,600 ships of over 1,000 tons, and those ships were complimented by similarly large numbers of allied vessels. The number of ships in the Navy has been steadily declining and it appears they may decline even more. Numerically this is the smallest US Navy since World War I, almost 100 years. Salt water covers approximately 69% of the earth’s surface or about 352,103,700 km²–roughly 100 million square nautical miles (rounding down a bit). That is roughly 352,113  sq. miles/ship. If we look at only cruisers, destroyers, and the projected LCS force (less than 140 ships) then that is about 715,000 square miles per ship. Spread evenly across the ocean they would be more than 800 miles apart, but of course ships are not spread evenly across the ocean and they are not all underway all the time, and they have missions other than sea control. Our attempts to control the flow of Narcotics by sea and attempts to prevent piracy off Africa demonstrate how truly hard Sea Control can be. The US and its close allies no longer control the majority of merchant and fishing fleets. Potential enemies control substantial numbers of ships that could damage the US and its allies in a number of ways including landing agents, smuggling weapons, laying mines, or directly attacking assets. Russian attempts to market the “Club-K” cruise missile as a containerized system that can weaponize any vessel with space for a standard 40 foot container highlights the potential dangers of failure to control enemy shipping.

BASE SECURITY: Once the US Navy was present in virtually every American port and there were a host of small ships that provided security for these bases. Navy resources are increasingly concentrated and the flotillas of small craft are gone. The Chinese vision of how to counter the US includes attacks on vulnerable rear area and logistical support. In Adm. Liu’s vision. “In applying tactics to ‘active defense’ operations, we would act on the guiding principle that we advance if the enemy advances. That is, if the enemy attacked our coastal areas, we would attack the enemy’s rear.”…Liu recounts addressing a June 1984 forum. He was gratified that the navy had embraced “a unified guiding ideology for its combat operations. It had made clear the combat principle of ‘active defense, offshore battles’ and the combat forms of ‘positional warfare for firm coastal defense, mobile sea warfare, and sabotage guerrilla sea warfare.’”


When you start with only 120 to 140 surface combatants, after assigning ships to escort eleven carriers and ten Amphibious ready groups, assigning ships for Ballistic Missile Defense, and factoring in maintenance requirements, there simply is very little left for other missions.

What Does It Take to Sink a Ship?

The Coast Guard spends much more time thinking about how to keep ships from sinking, than it does about how to sink them. But because the Coast Guard is tasked with maritime security and because of the potential for terrorists using a ship as a means of attack, the question has become relevant. It becomes important when you consider, is the Coast Guard adequately armed for its missions. I’ve mentioned several times that I don’t believe the 57 mm gun is adequate to stop a medium to large ship being used as a weapon. I’ll try to explain why I have reached that conclusion and offer some examples.

Stopping–keeping it from reaching the target–rather than sinking a ship is probably more the relevant criteria, but generally ships don’t sink rapidly, particularly if you are trying to do it with a gun, so almost inevitably it is necessary to do enough damage to ultimately sink the ship if you are going to stop it in a timely fashion. Many of the ships that I will talk about continued to fight on for over an hour after the first hits were registered. Think of sinking a close surrogate for stopping a ship before it reaches its objective.

There are of course many examples of ships either surviving grievous attacks or alternately ships sink after a single hit. What it takes to sink a ship is highly variable and at best probabilistic. Its highly dependent upon ship design and preparation, but the most important variable seems to be size.

World War II experience

Over a long period, I’ve made an informal study of this subject. The primary source I used was the US Navy Report of War Damage series available here. The same index also includes reports of individual ship damage and reports of damage to British warships. I would also recommend the “Destroyer Report: Gunfire, Bomb and Kamikaze Damage, 17Oct41-15Aug45” which includes annotated damage control plates. The amount of damage these little ships took and in some cases survived is truly amazing.

The US Navy Report of War Damage series briefly outlines all incidents of damage to US Navy Battleships, Carriers, Cruisers, Destroyers, and Destroyer Escorts as they were known at the time the document was published and includes diagrams of the location of hits. Continue reading

A Relatively Painless Submarine Detection Capability

If the Coast Guard should ever again decide it needs a submarine detection capability, there may be a way to add it to vessels as small as the 87 ft WPBs.

The Navy is currently fielding a new version of it’s  ASW helicopter, the MH-60R, and it’s new dipping sonar is proving much more effective than it’s predecessor.  The complete sonar system can weigh less than 600 pounds.

The Soviets also used dipping sonars, but not just on helicopters. They used them on small surface craft as well. These vessels would work in teams using a sprint and drift tactic.

The same transducer might also be hull mounted with relatively little impact. There is also the possibility that with relatively minor modifications it could be made into a towed variable depth sonar. A combination of hull mounted transducer and variable depth sonar working off the same console could offer some advantages.

Certainly not very effective for chasing nucs, and I’m not suggesting we need a big program to  look for Narco subs, but, should the need arise, it could be work against the ultra quiet but slow moving diesel electric subs that might lurk in the high noise areas of the littorals.

Offshore Patrol Cutter Update

There seems to be some movement on the Offshore Patrol Cutter procurement and once again the requirements seem to have softened and become less specific. There are two recent news releases here and here. You can also access these and older news releases through the OPC website.

To review the basics, the Offshore Patrol Cutters (OPC) are a projected class of 25 ships intended to replace all 29 MECs (Medium Endurance Cutters) currently in service including:
 13 Famous Class, 270-foot (82.3 m), which entered service 1983-1990
; 16 Reliance Class, 210-foot (64 m), (including two already sold under military assistance) which entered service 1964-1969; Acushnet (1944); and Alex Haley (1968)

The issues I have with the program currently are as follows:

First, we are replacing 31 ships with only 25. Possible, perhaps, in ideal circumstances, but Murphy has not retired. There will be teething problems with the first few and these ships, like all the ships before them, will have their problems.  This may be mitigated somewhat by the additional capabilities of the Webber class, in that they can, to some extent, take up the slack.

Second, the first ship is not expected until 2019. By that time the oldest of the 210s will have been in service for 55 years, the Acushnet for 75.  If one ship is delivered in 2019 and three ships a year after that, the last one will not be delivered until 2027 when the newest existing WMEC will have been in service for 37 years. For a nation that designed, contracted, and built over 100 aircraft carriers in less than four years, this is pretty sad, but it seems reforms intended to make procurement efficient have made efficient procurement impossible. Even so, I think we need to do better.

Now to the ships themselves. The following is quoted from Offshore Patrol Cutter (OPC) Project CG-9322 | CAPT Brad Fabling | FEB2010 “Offshore Patrol Cutter (OPC)
Brief to ASNE”:

“Notional High-level Mission Requirements:

“Aviation –operate with CG/USN H-60, CG H-65 and UAVs

“Small Boats –Utilized multiple small boats for rescue and law enforcement operations

“Towing –up to equivalent tonnage

“Rescue –bring multiple individuals aboard directly from the water
–bring individuals aboard that are injured or unable to move on their own.

“Sea Keeping –Full operationally through SS5 (i.e. Aviation and Small Boat)
–Limited operations through SS7 and survive through SS8

“Maneuverability –at slower speeds and in smaller ports

“Endurance – 8500 NM/9500 NM at 14KTS sustained
– 14 days between refueling & FAS capable

“Speed –25 KTS/22 KTS

“AFHP / Service Life for 30 years –capable of 185 days (230 days surge)/40 years to fatigue

“Accommodations –104/90 racks & support mix gender crews w/6 persons/space or less

“Combat System –limited air defense, full surface combat, & anti-terrorism ready
**Classed to ABS NVR”

“In terms of engineering robustness, the needs of the modern USCG Cutter can be
considered similar to a small navy combatant, but for different reasons:

““Plus” aspects –increased range, seakeeping for Boat and Aviation operations, fatigue life (40 year), crewing number

“Minus” aspect –no need for shock, air defense, operations in Chemical, Biological, &
Radiation (CBR) environment”

I find very little to argue with here but there are some things that are left unsaid and considerable room for additional specificity.

In the Aviation requirement, when it says “operate with” Navy H-60s, I presume that means land and hanger them, but does it also mean that there will be magazine space for their weapons and storage for sonobuoys and other equipment? I think there should be.

The boat handling requirement is not specific. I would think at least two RHIBs including at least one long range interceptor using a stern ramp like that on the NSC.

The towing requirement is modest, but probably realistic in view of what we really do and the competing requirements for space on the stern.

I don’t really know what the Rescue requirement, “bring multiple individuals aboard directly from the water–bring individuals aboard that are injured or unable to move on their own” means in terms of the ship characteristics. Does this mean there will have to be an opening in the hull at the waterline with a platform like the NSC or are we just talking about “J” davits and tethered rescue swimmers?

The “Sea Keeping” and “Endurance” requirements seem about right.

Presumably the “Maneuverability” requirement just means there will some form of thrusters, we hopefully will be more specific here as to the ability to turn the ship against the wind or move the ship sideways.

If the speed requirement is “25 KTS/22 KTS,” then the requirement is 22 knots and that is probably what we will get. This is little better than what we have now and is inadequate to keep up with or catch many modern merchant ships and it is not quite fast enough to keep up with Navy amphibious ships. At the minimum we need 24 knots sustained.

The planned accommodations are certainly more reasonable than those provided for the Littoral Combat ship. Realistically we can probably run the ship with fewer people, but being able to accommodate more is a good hedge against future requirements.

When the  “Brief to ASNE”  says “’Minus’ aspect –no need for shock, air defense, operations in Chemical, Biological, & Radiation (CBR) environment” I presume they mean that there will be no pressurized, filtered NBC citadel as in the NSC not that there will be no Circle William fittings. (This is a change from previous descriptions of the OPC which included this capability.) Lets also hope that darkening ship will be a routine activity, with the proper fittings and door trips, that doesn’t require the ad hoc approach used on 210s.

I’m not sure what they mean by “limited air defense, full surface combat, & anti-terrorism ready.” I would think that this would imply at least a medium caliber gun and its associated firecontrol system. If it does not include a Close In Weapons System (CIWS) then it should at least include space and weight reservation for a future installation. To cover the rear of the ship and provide unit security and better situational awareness a couple of Mk 38 Mod 2 25 mm mounts like those on the Webber Class cutters, sited to cover as nearly 360 degrees as possible, would also be a useful addition, but they are not a replacement for the medium caliber gun.

There should be significant weight moment margins built into the design for future growth. The margins provided for the NSC were obviously not adequate. They have already been used up. We should anticipate that over the life of the ships they will acquire additional missions and associated equipment. It would be short sighted to think otherwise.

There is no mention of provision for use of mission modules (basically specially configured 8x8x20 cargo containers). This is an approach that is rapidly gaining acceptance and is incorporated in the LCS and Offshore Patrol Vessels being built by Spain and the Netherlands. Hopefully this will be included in the final specifications.  If not, it would at least be a strong selling point for contenders for the contract.

Unless we are awarding a multiyear contract for the full 25 ships, which I doubt would be possible, in order to avoid being tied to a sole source ship yard, all engineering drawings and the license to use them should be included as deliverables in the first contract, along with any modifications in future contracts.

Related posts:

Canadian Icebreaker/Offshore Patrol Vessel Procurement

Arctic Patrol Vessel

WMEC 270 to OPC

Guns for the Offshore Patrol Cutters

“Design” an Offshore Patrol Cutter Today

Israeli Navy Developments, with possible CG connections

Thought some of you might find this article interesting.  It touches on a number of items that might be interesting.

The Typhoon gun mount, now being equipped with the Spike ER missile system, is the same mount planned for installation on the Fast Response Cutter under the US designation Mk 38 Mod 2. This mount has lots of interesting non-military potential as a search, survaillance, and navigation aid as well.  I would think we would want in on the Offshore Patrol Cutter (OPC).

It discusses how the Israelis are dealing with the threat of booby trapped fishing vessels that have been used in three attacks on boarding vessels.

It talks about development of a persistent, radar equipped maritime version of their Heron high altitude UAV. This might be an alternative for the CG.

It reports how the Israelis are using kits to convert RHIBs to unmanned armed surveillance craft.

It also notes that the Israelis are in the market for a ship about the same size as the Offshore Patrol Cutter, and because the money will likely be provided by the US, there is a good chance it will have to be built in the US.  There might be an opportunity for cooperation here.