Counting the Cutters

Every year the Navy addresses the Congress and tells them how many ships they have and how many ships they need to do their missions. These numbers do not include Coast Guard ships, but perhaps they should.

The numbers of ships the Navy requires is, to at least some extent, based on the number of Cutters in the Coast Guard.

Protecting a nation’s coast and its ports is normally the most basic and immediate task of any navy. For the US Navy this has hardly been a consideration. Overt threats are kept at arms length by projecting power at great distance, pushing the defensive perimeter far from our shores. But for covert threats, there is also the presumption that those threats will be addressed by the Coast Guard. If there were no Coast Guard, the Navy would have to provide these ships, distracting form their forward strategy.

Additionally war plans anticipate the use of cutters for tasks other than defense of the US coast. If there were no Coast Guard, the Navy would also need to supply these ships.

What would including the Coast Guard do for us? It would

  • Identify national security implications of a shortfall in Coast Guard assets
  • Identify assets that could be either Coast Guard or Navy and result in more explicit consideration of trade-offs
  • Identify capabilities the Navy would like to see in Coast Guard vessels and recognition of the benefits of marginal improvements in cutters toward the national defense

In terms of personnel the Coast Guard is now larger than the Royal Navy. In effect it is the Navy’s closest and most reliable ally. The economic advantages of close coordination are compelling.

We have heard references to a “National Fleet.” Perhaps it is time to apply the concept to procurement planning as well as operations.

“Navy at a Tipping Point,” What Does It Mean to the Coast Guard?

The Navy is shrinking and will have to make some hard choices. How will this effect the Coast Guard?

March 1, 2010 the Center for Naval Analysis published a now widely read and quoted treatise, discussing how the Navy can best reorder its priorities to deal with the new realities of a shrinking fleet and the rise of new potential competitors, particularly China, ” The Navy at a Tipping Point: Maritime Dominance at Stake?” It is available as a pdf and can be downloaded here.

It accepts that the Navy will shrink to approximately 230 ship from its current level of approximately 285 and outlines five alternative futures.

  • 2 Hub–continuously maintaining forward deployed Carrier Strike Groups (CSG) in the Western Pacific and the Indian Ocean (IO) at the expense of engagement (nation building/maritime policing) and forcible entry (amphib) capability.
  • 1+ Hub–maintaining a forward deployed CSG in the Western Pacific and a tailored task group based on amphibs in the IO
  • Shaping–emphasizing maritime policing, Humanitarian Assistance/Disaster Relief (HS/DR), and engagement with friendly navies/coast guards at the expense of combat capability (trying to create a more peaceful world but compromising warfighting ability)
  • Surge–Emphasizing strong combat capability but with much reduced forward deployment/engagement
  • Shrinking Status Quo–trying to continue doing all the same things with less

In the sparest terms their impact on the fleet are outlined below (ref. p 43):

  • 2 Hub–fewer amphibs and low end assets, more Aegis and SSNs
  • 1+ Hub–fewer CSG, more low end assets
  • Shaping–fewer CSG, Aegis, and SSNs, more amphibs and low end
  • Surge–fewer amphibs, low-end, and logistics, more Aegis and SSNs
  • Shrinking Status Quo–less of everything

Relative to their emphasis on the high end to low end spectrum the resulting fleet looks like this:

High End–2 Hub, Surge, Shrinking Status Quo, 1+ Hub, Shaping–Low End

Observations:

The study doesn’t explicitly address some missions.

  • ASW protection for merchant shipping (and the attendant need for frigates), once a core mission of the Navy, wasn’t considered at all.
  • ASW operations against SSBNs wasn’t explicitly addressed
  • Nor were changes to our nuclear deterrents (SSBNs)
  • Possible future requirements to impose a blockade, if considered at all, were only addressed in nebulous terms of establishing “Sea Control” and the large number of low end units required was not addressed.

The USN doesn’t seem to regard coastal defense of the US as a mission that it needs to concern itself with. (I suppose that’s why we have a Coast Guard.) It is mentioned in the study only as a “wild card” that might constrain future options (page 22).

The Coast Guard performs many of the missions that Navies do in most countries. This has relieved the Navy of the requirement to maintain large numbers of low end assets. Unlike most countries, the US essentially has two Navies–the High End Navy and the low end Coast Guard. Since the USN has abdicated the low end tasks, expecting the Navy to mentor low end Navies around the world may be unrealistic anyway.

What I think will happen:

The Navy will make every effort to keep their high end assets–Carriers, Aegis equipped Guided Missile Cruisers and Destroyers and Submarines–exemplified in the  “2 Hub”  option, perhaps with deployments pulled back from the Asian mainland in recognition of the dangers of a Chinese first strike.

Amphibs and low end forces will be cut back further. The Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) will be truncated far short of the originally planned 55 units.

Navy support for drug enforcement will be reduced, as will “engagement” in terms of interaction with small navies and coast guards. The Coast Guard will be asked to fill in, in the engagement role.

In wartime, the need for small vessels to do inspections for contraband, either as a quarantine or blockade or off the shores of friendly countries, as we did in Vietnam in Operation Market Time, or to protect offshore assets, as we are doing now off Iraq, will fall increasingly on the Coast Guard.

What I think we should do:

That the Coast Guard has a defense role needs to be more widely recognized, planned for, equipped, and appropriately funded, meaning a marginally larger force.

While I personally doubt its effectiveness, it can be argued that reduced Navy commitments in support of drug enforcement will need to be replaced by less expensive Coast Guard assets.

The Coast Guard can do engagement missions cheaper and possibly better, but they need to be properly funded, because they do effect our force structure. The same may be true of counter piracy.

To make it happen, we really need the Navy to strongly support the Coast Guard, and if they choose the high end option, they have an incentive to do so, as a way of explaining why they can reasonably walk away from some of the things they have done in the past and “let the Coast Guard do it.”

Offshore Patrol Cutters–Why the Navy Should Support the Program

A number of things have happened that makes the Offshore Patrol Cutters potentially important to the national defense, and suggest that the Navy should support their design and construction, including helping with project administration if we need that and testifying before Congress to justify the additional cost of naval features.

  • The number of ships in the Navy has decreased dramatically. From almost 600 ships 20 years ago, the number has fallen to about 280, in spite of constant statements to the effect that 313 is the minimum number required. Many expect that the number of Navy ships will fall to as low as 230. Much of the decrease has been in ships at the low end of the high/low mix and the planned replacement is behind schedule, and in the eyes of many, a failure. Our allies’ fleets have also been shrinking, in many cases, more rapidly than our own, while new challenges to American naval supremacy are developing, so the importance of any Coast Guard contribution is proportionately greater.
  • Despite having entered service between 1979 and 1989, the FFGs, which are the “maid of all works” within the Navy, are being rapidly decommissioned and will soon be all gone because of maintenance problems. These are the ships that do most of the Navy’s partnerships station and drug enforcement work. (29 of 51 built currently in service)
  • The Cyclone Class Patrol Craft, that entered service between 1993 and 2000, have been found to have deteriorated much faster than expected and have been sidelined. Never quite what the Navy hoped for, too small for some roles and too large for others, they became busiest vessels in the US Navy with proportionately more underway time than any other type. (Of 14 built, 10 in service with the USN, 3 with USCG, one transferred to Philippine Navy)
  • The Littoral Combat ships (LCS) were supposed to fix some of these problems. This was a program to build 55 ships that would replace the Navy’s 14 Mine Warfare ships, the remaining FFGs, and the Cyclone Class PCs. They were to be cheap to build, minimally manned, and use removable mission modules that would allow them to become alternately mine countermeasures, anti-submarine, or anti-surface warfare ships. The LCS program is in trouble. Ship construction is behind schedule, and module development is even farther behind. The ships are much more expensive than expected. The manning concepts appears flawed and berthing limitations mean more people cannot simply be added to the crew. If the program is killed the Navy is going to need a replacement.

If the LCS project is killed, a class based on the OPC’s hull might be able to take its place. If the LCS program is terminated at less than the planned number, Navy ships based on the OPC can supplement the LCS and do many, perhaps all of it’s missions, at a lower cost. Even if all 55 LCSs are built, Coast Guard OPCs can still make a significant contribution to the Nation’s defense; particularly, if they can use systems designed for the LCS.

Navy vessels based on the OPC could cost less than half the price of an LCS. Even without mission modules, the Navy could use the class as the basis for a common hull that could be fill the partnership, patrol, presence, counter-piracy, and drug enforcement roles of the FFGs at a much lower cost and also perform many of the PCs missions with greater endurance and better sea keeping. They are potentially affordable, relatively low tech platforms, that can be exported under the Foreign Military Assistance Program to help our friends. If their aviation facilities are made adequate for MH-60R and MH-60S helicopters (not much different from our own H-60s), with LCS modules they could fill the LCS roles. (This might require them to operate in pairs to carry all the equipment planned for a LCS)

To fulfill its potential in these roles, the OPC need not be much different from current planning. The ship’s description over at the Acquisitions Directorate web site has gotten progressively fuzzier over time, but I will be specific about what I think it needs.

  • Speed: 25 knots
  • Aviation Facilities including a hanger for at least: one USCG MH-65 and one MQ-8 Firescout UAV/one USCG HH-60J or MH-60T/one USN MH-60R or 60S with magazines and storage space for independent operation with these aircraft, not just the ability to land and refuel.
  • Air Search Radar that can track our helos at least 100 miles
  • Launch/recover facilities for at least two boats, 11 meters or larger, including at least one “Long Range Interceptor.”
  • Medium caliber gun and associated radar/optical firecontrol system–presumably 57 mm Mk 110, but Mk 75 would work too and might save money
  • At least one/preferably two Mk38 mod2 auto-cannon positioned as required to cover any bearings not covered by the medium caliber gun
  • Four mounts for .50 cal. positioned to provide coverage by at least two mounts any bearing
  • Two OPC operated together, should have the sufficient space/weight reservation and necessary supporting connections/utilities/etc to take on at least one full suite of LCS MCM or ASW mission modules.
  • Fitted for but not with: CIWS, ESM/decoy systems, and anti-surface missile chosen for the LCS, ie NLOS or system chosen to replace it

The Coast Guard as a Navy, How Do We Stack Up?

Coasties frequently compare the size of their service to the New York City Police Force. The Marines think they are a small service, but Coast Guard is only one fifth their size. We usually only see comparisons with Navies in terms of how old our ships are, but how do we stack up in terms of numbers of people?

Would it surprise you to know that with over 42,000 active duty Coast Guardsmen, we have as many, or more people, than the British or French Navies?

The following list is not exhaustive and I can’t guarantee it’s 100% accurate (Wikipedia), but it is representative of the personnel numbers for some significant Navies around the world. As near as possible I’ve only included active duty. In some cases, even when not marked, the figure includes Marines.

U.S. Navy: 330,729
People’s Republic of China : 250,000
Russia: 161,000
India: 56,000
Japan: 46,000
(North) Korean People’s Army Naval Force: 46,000
France: 42,550
Spain: 47,300 including Marines
Republic of Korea (South): 68,000 including 27,000 Marines
Royal Navy: 39,100 including 7,500 Marines
Italy: 35,200
Chile: 25,000
Pakistan: 24,000
Republic of China: 23,000
Argentina: 17,200
Germany 17,000
Australia: 12,500
Netherlands: 10,000
Canada: 9,000

The US Navy is shrinking. We seem to be included in Navy planning more than in the past, but it still seems the services potential as a “naval reserve” frequently goes unrecognized and the potential of relatively modest expenditures to enhance that role are not considered.

National Security Cutter as Navy Patrol Frigate

Navy Times’ “Scoop Deck” asks what the Navy will do “After the frigates are gone” and suggest that variants of the National Security Cutter (NSC) might be a better solution than the Littoral Combat Ship (LSC).

Back in March, Defense News also suggested that the NSC might be the Navy’s best option.

This has been an on going discussion for a long time, fueled no doubt by Northop Grumman’s desire to sell more ships. But the suggestion has been taken seriously. In July 2009, the Congressional Budget Office Study did a study that included an upgraded 20 NSCs as an option to 25 of the LCS.

That study suggested that these 20 NSCs be upgraded as follows:

“For approximately $260 million, the Navy could replace the Close-In Weapon System (CIWS) currently used on the national security cutter with the SeaRAM Mk-15 CIWS. Unlike the former system, which consists of a rapid-firing gun designed to engage subsonic antiship missiles at close ranges, the SeaRAM CIWS would incorporate a rolling airframe missile on the same physical space but provide the ship with the ability to engage supersonic antiship cruise missiles out to 5 nautical miles. The SeaRAM system includes its own sensor suite—a Ku band radar and forward-looking infrared imaging system— to detect, track, and destroy incoming missiles.

“An additional layer of antiship missile defense could be provided by installing the Mk-56 vertical launch system with Evolved Sea Sparrow Missiles (ESSMs) along with an Mk-9 Tracker/Illuminator system to detect, track, and engage antiship missiles. The ESSM can engage supersonic antiship missiles at a range of nearly 30 nautical miles. Installing 20 sets of a 12-cell launching system (which would carry 24ESSMs), buying the missiles, and integrating the weapons with the ships would cost about $1.1billion.”

So these upgrades would cost $1.360B/20 ships or $68M/ship

With many more critics than supporters, there is a lot speculation that the Navy will not build anywhere near the 55 LCSs currently planned. The black-eye lean manning is getting in the Navy lately, and the fact that the LCSs are designed for lean manning with no apparent option for growing the crew, is adding to criticism of its limited weapons and poor endurance. The Coast Guard is looking smart for providing the NSCs and OPCs with both realistic crews and room for growth.

If the government wanted to open an option for the future, it might be smart to increase the CG buy of NSCs to 12, to make up some of the shortage of ship days that is certainly in our future and direct that the last 6 be made as a “B” class with a weapons fit including the systems sited above, a towed array sonar, and all necessary space and equipment for support of two MH-60Fs, with the marginal cost paid out of the Navy budget. The nation would have an additional capability and the Navy would have have a ready option in a mature design, that could take on the functions of the FFGs.