Defense Roles and Missions

Wednesday, April 13, the President asked for a new roles and missions analysis, with the intention of saving $400B from “security spending,” over the next twelve years.  Reportedly this will include the departments of Homeland Security, Veterans Affairs, and Energy, as well as DOD.

A little surprising to me this will include DHS and by extension the Coast Guard. The first thing that comes to mind of course is cuts, but that isn’t the only way things could go. There could also be some reassignment of responsibility, that result in over all savings, but leave one or more service or agency stronger than before. Of course it could also mean moving the Coast Guard into the Navy Department could be looked at again.

Will The Coast Guard stop operating larger ships and simply put boarding teams on Navy ships? or will the Coast Coast Guard be seen as a Naval asset that with a little augmentation could take over some of the Navy’s roles? Or will the CG simply be ignored?

What should the Coast Guard’s “security” roles be? For counter terrorism? For wartime? What “core competencies” does the Coast Guard need to maintain? Could this effect other missions as well?

“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


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.”

“The Forgotten Threat,” by Captain Jim Howe, USCG (retired)

The US Naval Institute, October 2010 issue, is their “Homeland Security” Issue.  There is not as much “Homeland Security” as you might expect. (There is a Eurofighter Typhoon on the cover.) It does includes articles on dealing with the threat of cross border violence from Drug Cartels and bio-terrorism, but clearly the article with the most Coast Guard implications is “The Forgotten Threat,By Captain Jim Howe, U.S. Coast Guard (Retired), that talks about the threat presented by terrorist attacks using vessels of less than 300 tons.

It outlines the problem and raises a lot of questions, but “it’s complicated.” Basically the thrust is that we have failed to plan. He’s probably right.

“Disappointingly, the resulting “Small Vessel Security Strategy” issued in April 2008 was little more than a skeleton, listing fundamental principles, cataloging a number of existing programs, and containing almost no detail on how potential threats would be addressed. Independent oversight bodies panned the report: DHS’s own inspector general said the agency “has not provided a comprehensive strategy for addressing small vessel threats.”1 Even more troubling, the follow-on implementation plan—arguably the most important piece of the notional strategy—languishes. As this issue went to press it had yet to emerge from the federal bureaucracy. There is, then, no road map to address terrorists’ potential use of small vessels.”

Clearly the Coast Guard is the number one stake holder–should I say bag holder.

What do we do about this is? In the spirit of “completed staff work,” draft a plan and provide it to the Department (this clearly puts the ball in their court). Clearly we have already done some of this. Otherwise we could not have come up with performance criteria.

Yes, some potential targets are impossible to protect. Some responsibility should go to other military services, state and local authorities, and to the owners of shore side facilities. We need to lay out our position. No, it won’t have force until its chewed over by all the interested parties and signed, but looks like someone needs to get it started and there is no one who has more interest in getting these questions on the table than the Coast Guard. That we need to resolve these issues in order to plan our procurement and force allocation should be obvious.

If Captain Howe is wrong and we have planned this out, I hope someone will correct the mistaken impression.

I’d like the headline to read “Coast Guard Foils Terrorist Attack” instead of …

And why weren’t there more articles with a Coast Guard flavor? Maybe we need to think and write more about our role in the department.