Tag Archives: Coast Guard

Saving the Lives of Maritime Passageways: The Coast Guard and Maritime Chokepoints

NAFAC Week

By Victoria Castleberry

The need for security of international maritime trade has never been greater as over 90 percent of internationally traded goods are transported via maritime shipping and 70 percent of maritime shipped goods are containerized cargo.1 Most trade vessels are funneled through one or more of six strategic chokepoints around the world: the Suez and Panama Canals, Strait of Malacca, Strait of Bab el-Mandeb, Strait of Gibraltar, and the Strait of Hormuz.2 Perhaps the most unique of these chokepoints is the Strait of Hormuz, and the presence of six 110’ Coast Guard Cutters in its vicinity. Coast Guard presence provides what no other U.S. asset can to this hostile region: provide security without an escalation of arms and the facilitation of transnational cooperation through various interagency programs. Expanding this model of strategic deterrence by increasing the U.S. Coast Guard’s presence internationally, the United States will be capable of protecting our most precious passages, promote international cooperation, and give the U.S. an advantage in determining how the international maritime waterways are governed.

According to the Energy Information Administration, the Strait of Hormuz exports approximately 20 percent of the global oil market and a total of 35 percent of all sea-based trade.3 With such a valuable resource transported through a small area, the necessity of security for this strait is clearly essential to the international market. Unfortunately, tensions within the region are rising and the risk of port closure, piracy, and military interference are all real possibilities that the global market may face when transporting through this region.4 In an effort to counter potential mishaps the United States has already utilized the Coast Guard to provide an authoritative yet non-threatening presence in the Persian Gulf that over time has proven effective.

Currently the Coast Guard spearheads several programs in Patrol Forces Southwest Asia (PATFORCESWA).5 Programs in the region specialize in the training of Coast Guards from around the world to bolster international maritime security cooperation. These programs help to support Article 43 of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) agreement which requires user and bordering states to cooperate for the necessity of navigation and safety for vessels transiting.6 This specific call to duty for the user and bordering states by UNCLOS is a mission set specialized by the Coast Guard. The Coast Guard is currently operating in Freedom of Navigation Operations, escorting of military vessels, hosts an International Port Security Liaison Officer program, and possesses a Middle East Training Team responsible for conducting operations in conjunction with foreign militaries.7

As previously stated, the Coast Guard currently offers programs which work toward international cooperation for maritime security. Programs offered in the Persian Gulf include the International Port Security Liaison Officer (IPSLO) program and the Middle East Training Team (METT). These programs act as partnerships between the U.S. Coast Guard and foreign militaries to build up and sustain their own Coast Guards, as well as improve their own port security to facilitate trade between all nations.8 The IPSLO program allows for a “sound foundation from which countries can build their own domestic maritime security system.” This foundation is built through the education and enforcement of the international codes.9 Other programs such as the METT regularly participate in “theater security cooperation engagements with foreign navies and coast guards throughout the region.” These teams focus on teaching other coast guards and navies proper procedure for LE boarding and smuggling interception.10 These are the programs which need support to protect maritime chokepoints globally.

Lieutenant Jared Korn, USCG, was the Operations Officer aboard USCGC Adak, one of the six cutters deployed to PATFORCESWA. When asked about situations experienced while deployed within the Persian Gulf region, LT Korn described instances where Iranian vessels would approach the cutter and eventually depart. LT Korn to explained that in whole, the U.S. Coast Guard is an internationally recognizable symbol for aid, security, and is notably less threatening than a grey-hulled naval vessel within the Persian Gulf region.11

The presence of the U.S. Coast Guard in the Persian Gulf has been an effective tool in deterrence of hostiles within the region. This model can and should be applied to the other strategic chokepoints around the world. In 2014 the Panama Canal was faced with 44 reported piracy attacks, the Suez Canal is similarly plagued with piracy, off the coast of Somalia pirates have collected ransoms for over 10,000 dollars.12 Other strategic chokepoints such as the Strait of Gibraltar, Strait of Malacca, and Strait of Bab el-Mandeb would also benefit from the presence of the U.S. Coast Guard within their regions. Although these regions are not experiencing as severe of a threat to their maritime trade route imminently, prevention-based presence could avoid severe consequences of trade shutdown in these strategic chokepoints. The best way to do this is to grow the U.S. Coast Guard’s patrol craft fleet internationally as well as the training programs which aid in the diplomatic relations and sovereignty of nations’ security.

Although the solution of expanding the Coast Guard’s mission internationally is possible, it does have two potential obstacles. The first obstacle is public perception, the second, asset availability. Public perception of law enforcement today is already at an all-time low. By allowing our only armed service with law enforcement capabilities to shift its mission internationally the United States runs the risk of the American people’s perceptions shifting as well.13 The positive perception by the American people of the Coast Guard is at risk of being diminished due to the perception of war-like actions by our domestic maritime law enforcement. More clearly, however, is the logistics. As the smallest branch of the armed services the U.S. Coast Guard accomplishes its mission set with just a fraction of the assets, personnel, and budget as her Department of Defense counterparts. Expanding the mission set of the Coast Guard will only spread these resources more thin without congressional budgetary aid to gradually build up international forces overseas.

The solution to the problem of securing strategic maritime passageways is a complex one. The solution cannot escalate tensions, must facilitate international cooperation, be non-intrusive, and help bolster nations’ forces. In many of the strategic chokepoints around the world, tensions run high. The necessity for diplomatic operations makes the Coast Guard the best choice to accomplish this mission. Expanding the United States Coast Guard’s assets and programs internationally will allow for these requirements to be met and give the United States a strategic advantage in the control of international maritime security.

Victoria Castleberry is a student at the Coast Guard Academy. She is a junior who studies government and focuses on security studies. She is the varsity coxswain for the women’s crew team. She participates in the cadet musical and was recently a dancer in the musical Footloose.  She has 2 dogs named Ezekiel (Zeke) and McCain (Mac) and grew up in Northern Virginia. She will be stationed in Puerto Rico on the USCGC Richard Dixon this summer. She hopes to become a Deck Watch Officer and drive big white boats somewhere south of the Mason-Dixon Line and attend law school.

Bibliography

Allen, Craig, Jr. “White Hulls Must Prepare for Grey Zone Challenges.” U.S. Naval Institute, November 2016: 365.

Castonguay, James. “International Shipping: Globalization in Crisis.” Witness Magizine. n.d. http://www.visionproject.org/images/img_magazine/pdfs/international_shipping.pdf (accessed March 28, 2017).

Katzman, Kenneth, Neelesh Nerurkar, Ronald O’Rourke, R. Chuck Mason, and Michael Ratner. “Iran’s Threat to the Strait of Hormuz.” Congressional Research Service, 2012: 1-23.

Korn, LT Jared, interview by Victoria Castleberry. Operations Officer CGC Adak Interview (March 29, 2017).

Rodrigue, Jean-Paul. “Stragetic Maritime Passages.” The Geography of Transport Systems. n.d. https://people.hofstra.edu/geotrans/eng/ch1en/appl1en/table_chokepoints_challenges.htm (accessed March 27, 2017).

US Coast Guard. United States Coast Guard. December 12, 2016. https://www.uscg.mil/lantarea/PATFORSWA/ (accessed March 30, 2017).

—. United States Coast Guard. December 21, 2016. https://www.uscg.mil/d14/feact/Maritime_Security.asp (accessed March 31, 2017).

Williams, Colonel Robin L. Somalia Piracy: Challenges and Solutions. Academic Reseach Project, Carlisle Barraks: United States Army War College, 2013.

1.  Castonguay, James. “International Shipping: Globalization in Crisis.” Witness Magizine. n.d. http://www.visionproject.org/images/img_magazine/pdfs/international_shipping.pdf (accessed March 28, 2017).

2. Rodrigue, Jean-Paul. “Stragetic Maritime Passages.” The Geography of Transport Systems. n.d. https://people.hofstra.edu/geotrans/eng/ch1en/appl1en/table_chokepoints_challenges.htm (accessed March 27, 2017).

3. Katzman, Kenneth, Neelesh Nerurkar, Ronald O’Rourke, R. Chuck Mason, and Michael Ratner. “Iran’s Threat to the Strait of Hormuz.” Congressional Research Service, 2012: 1-23.

4. ibid.

5. US Coast Guard. United States Coast Guard. December 12, 2016. https://www.uscg.mil/lantarea/PATFORSWA/ (accessed March 30, 2017).

6. United Nations. United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, § Part III Straits Used for International Navigation (n.d.).

7. US Coast Guard. United States Coast Guard. December 12, 2016.    _______https://www.uscg.mil/lantarea/PATFORSWA/ (accessed March 30, 2017).

-United States Coast Guard. December 21, 2016.        https://www.uscg.mil/d14/feact/Maritime_Security.asp (accessed March 31, 2017).

8. United States Coast Guard. Maritime Security

9. United States Coast Guard. Maritime Security

10. ibid.

11. ibid.

12. Williams, Colonel Robin L. Somalia Piracy: Challenges and Solutions. Academic Reseach Project, Carlisle Barraks: United States Army War College, 2013.

Featured Image: ASTORIA, Ore. – Two Coast Guard 47-foot motor lifeboat crews comprised of members from smallboat stations throughout the Thirteenth District train in the surf at Umpqua River near Winchester Bay, Ore. (Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer First Class Shawn Eggert)

Against the Growing Anti-Ship Missile Threat, Are We Truly Semper Paratus?

By Michael Milburn

This is the first of a three-part series examining the effectiveness of current ship self-defense capabilities on U.S. Coast Guard cutters within the context of expanded roles in the maritime domain. The author proposes solutions to current gaps in capability and presents a high level cost-benefit analysis to the proposal.

Introduction

The problems of the world cannot possibly be solved by skeptics or cynics whose horizons are limited by the obvious realities. We need men who can dream of things that never were.” President John F. Kennedy’s words challenge us to recall the limitations we once accepted and the adversity that forced change. Imagine the various catalysts that preceded major world events, technological milestones, social failures, and successes. Now imagine our nation – its safety, security, and vitality. Imagine those same feelings gutted and burning during the catastrophic impacts to the USS Stark and USS Cole. Because of these events, our Navy was forced out of the “obvious reality” and challenged to improve self-defense.

It is no secret that tensions between the United States, China, Russia, Iran, and North Korea are becoming progressively more inherently dangerous. Countries remain on high alert with fingers on triggers, awaiting the next move. As the U.S. Coast Guard sails off distant shores – the Arctic, the Middle East, and the South China Sea – it faces these same threats. The U.S. Coast Guard can be perceived as a soft target as it generally operates in a peacetime, non-aggressive, law enforcement capacity, unless transferred to the U.S. Navy by order of the President or act of Congress. But what happens when attacks are directed toward the Coast Guard? Bringing the service into 21st century warfighting has never been clearer than now with the need to examine a different Coast Guard that focuses on our statutory mission of Defense Readiness, in addition to homeland defense. One relatively quick and cost-effective method would be to upgrade USCG ships with modern close-in-weapons-systems (CIWS) to counter the proliferating anti-ship cruise missile (ASCM) threat. This would enhance USCG survivability in forward areas while building off of the Navy’s progress in fielding such systems in order to realize savings. 

The Anti-Ship Missile Challenge

A C-802 anti-ship missile travels at Mach 0.9, 1 nautical mile (NM) every 5.9 seconds. Launched from 20NM, a C-802 will take approximately 120 seconds to impact its intended target. This missile was originally created by China and exported to Iran after the 1991 Gulf War. It is operated by numerous coastal batteries within the Strait of Hormuz and other areas. Akin to the AK-47 assault rifle, the C-802 continues to be a common weapon system worldwide. Ten nations field the weapon. Smaller nations such as Iran continue to upgrade its technology, payloads, and increase its range. Strategic placement along highly trafficked waterways such as the Strait of Hormuz and the Bab el-Mandeb Strait continues to concern the U.S Coast Guard and the U.S. Navy, both of whom have military installations throughout the Middle East that are only accessible by way of such straits. 

Taking into account a ship’s reaction time, radar coverage, and the ever-decreasing engagement distance, there may be little to no indication of an inbound missile until it is less than 15NM away. This leaves less than 90 seconds to report, track, react with countermeasures, maneuver the ship, evaluate countermeasure effectiveness, and then re-engage. If it is not effective, CIWS is relied upon to take it out within its respective envelope. However, many modern anti-ship cruise missiles are even faster than the C-802. More and more missiles today fly at supersonic speeds of up to Mach 2-3. A missile traveling Mach 2.0 covers 1NM every 2.7 seconds; Mach 3.0 1NM every 1.8 seconds. That is 58 and 36 seconds of engagement time at a range of 20NM, respectively.

These highly sophisticated weapons are capable of being modified to fire from longer ranges and can also be installed on virtually any platform. They are no longer controlled by single or limited guidance systems. In recent decades, as early as the late 1980s, many countries including the U.S. looked to add multiple guidance systems on missiles to advance accuracy thereby increasing the probability of a hit. This was an adaptation to simplistic yet effective countermeasures of using chaff rounds, turning off a system the missile was looking for, or simply moving the ship out of the line of fire. Such simplistic countermeasures are no match for supersonic cruise missiles fitted with advanced seekers, capable of high-g turns, and that employ unpredictable maneuvers to maximize payload survivability and damage.

The recent and highly publicized events of the UAE Navy ship HSV-2 SWIFT, USS MASON, USS NITZE, AFSB PONCE and USS SAN ANTONIO have proven that post-Cold War missiles are still very much real and deadly. These attacks come as the first missile attacks against a U.S. or Coalition ship in over 25 years since Operation Desert Storm and just proved the necessity of installed self-defense weaponry. According to Vice Adm. Joseph Mulloy, Deputy Chief of Naval Operations for Integration of Capabilities and Resources, “in the next few years, everywhere the Navy goes, if you’re not in a submarine, you better watch out because every crappy country will be able to launch high-speed missiles at you and the propagation of that is going to be amazing.” Why is the USCG ignoring the ASCM threat?

Close-In-Weapons-Sytems

Let us examine CIWS. According to NavWeps, a Phalanx “CIWS will prioritize the first six threats it sees at about 5 nautical miles (NM) and engage at 2NM.” That means confirmation of the threat occurs around 30 seconds from impact and the weapons system can effectively engage certain threats just 11.8 seconds before impact. There are 18 seconds of reaction time and 3 NM of dead space where certain counter-ASCM systems cannot engage effectively. CIWS is just that: a close-in weapons system designed as a last resort against the ASCM threat at extremely close range.

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SeaRAM pinpoints its target and fires Rolling Airframe Missiles — lightweight, supersonic, self-guided weapons designed to destroy close-range threats, including helicopters and cruise missiles. [Photo credit: Raytheon]
The SeaRam system using the RIM-116 Rolling Airframe Missile (RAM) provides the enhanced counter-ASCM capability the USCG needs to guard against modern threats in place of the currently equipped Phalanx system. RAM is a supersonic, lightweight, quick-reaction, fire-and-forget weapon designed to destroy anti-ship missiles. Its autonomous dual-mode passive radio frequency (RF) and infrared guidance provides the capability for engaging multiple threats simultaneously. It can engage threats at over five miles and double the range of the Phalanx system.

RAM is continually improved to stay ahead of the ever-evolving threat of anti-ship missiles, helicopters, aircraft and surface craft. SeaRam is the successful integration of key attributes of the Phalanx Close-In Weapon System and Rolling Airframe Missile, replacing the 20mm Phalanx gun system with an 11-missile launcher assembly. It combines RAM’s superior accuracy, extended range, and high maneuverability with the Phalanx Block 1B’s high-resolution search-and-track sensor systems and quick-response capability against close-in threats. 

Building Off Navy Progress

While the U.S. Navy continues to improve self-defense capabilities against the ASCM threat, the Coast Guard by comparison has yet to consider this a priority. In fact, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) reported that National Security Cutters (NSC) have yet to achieve a hard or soft kill against a subsonic cruise missile as required by Congress. While the Phalanx CIWS onboard NSCs is fairly capable, the U.S. Navy has progressed to fleet-wide implementation of the more advanced RAM and SeaRAM systems – leaving even updated variants of systems from the early-80s for history.

The response came almost immediately amidst increasing threats from Russia and China in strategically key areas like the Eastern Mediterranean and the South China Sea. A handful of Navy destroyers in Spain were equipped to counter a Russian cruise missile threat that quickly emerged and littoral combat ships (LCS) are being tested with SeaRam, but the Navy is looking to expand these numbers to more ships across the fleet.

The Legend-class National Security Cutter USCGC WAESCHE (WMSL-751), Indonesian Navy landing platform dock ship KRI BANDA ACEH (BAC 593) and the amphibious dock landing ship USS GERMANTOWN (LSD 42) steam through the Java Sea in 2012. (U.S. Navy)
The Legend-class National Security Cutter USCGC WAESCHE (WMSL-751), Indonesian Navy landing platform dock ship KRI BANDA ACEH (BAC 593) and the amphibious dock landing ship USS GERMANTOWN (LSD 42) steam through the Java Sea in 2012. (U.S. Navy)

SeaRam and the MK 31 guided missile weapon system are not exactly “cheap” upgrades. On average the SeaRam and RAM systems cost the service around $998,900 per missile with 11 missiles for SeaRam and 21 for the MK31. As with any retrofitting there will be increased prices for outfitting the first few ships and lower production prices for long lead projects such as NSCs 8 through 10, all 25 Offshore Patrol Cutters (OPCs), and the new icebreakers.

Where the Coast Guard has the upper hand is letting our more experienced, and bigger-budgeted (13 times our operating budget) sister service do the leg work. Once a decision is made on a system, the Coast Guard can simply buy-in at a lower rate, appending their order to the Navy’s purchase of a large-rate multi-year procurement. Subsequently, this agreement can become Navy-Type Navy-Owned equipment (NTNO) and the network for support greatly increases. This was and is the case for SPS-75 and 57mm Borfors (on NSC and LCS classes), and the SLQ-32 systems installed on NSCs, WMECs, and virtually all U.S. Navy surface ships. Congressional regulations require interoperability and cross-service utilization for systems executing DoD operations. The SLQ-32, 57mm Bofors, Data Link 11/16 systems, and other combat systems currently in use by the USCG all meet these requirements

These weapon systems bring the Coast Guard into modern ship self-defense. This would be a smart move for the Coast Guard as these systems are commonly used across not just the U.S. Navy, but eight other navies as well. This brings more experienced technical and mechanical support worldwide along with increased interoperability that the U.S. maritime services have preached and signed agreements on. Outfitting the USCG with this system allows for greater interoperability and provides needed protection during independent operations. This adequately meets Congressional acquisition requirements and reinforces the service as a military entity able to operate forward.

Conclusion

Years ago we ignored the electromagnetic spectrum, swarming boat threats, and quite possibly the ASCM threat as well. Our objectives were not aimed at those areas as they were predominantly Navy missions. Was this naive? The USCG motto, after all, is Semper Paratus, meaning “Always Ready,” but when it comes down to reality, are we really confident enough to place an NSC, or soon the OPC, into a high-threat area where modern missiles lie over the horizon? We cannot overlook that we are targets and we need to survive those unexpected attacks in order to be there when it counts.

In part two, we will examine the use of non-kinetic systems and measures for ship self-defense against anti-ship missiles. We will then discuss the integration of hard-kill and soft-kill tactics under the NSC program. We will cover costs associated, similar programs throughout history, issues with these systems, and the possible barriers the service may face along the way. There will be room to explore the Coast Guard’s continuing and expanded role in the maritime domain along with the associated international relationships and how these measures can enhance the service’s traditional roles.

Petty Officer Michael A. Milburn is a career Cutterman, with over 7 years of  experience aboard four different cutters, including commissioning two National Security Cutters. He is a current member of CIMSEC, USNI, Association of Old Crows, Surface Navy Association, and various other professional organizations. The views in this article are his alone and do not represent the U.S. Coast Guard, the Department of Homeland Security or any other government organization.

Featured Image: PACIFIC OCEAN (June 24, 2016) Legend-class cutter USCGC Stratton (WMSL 752) and littoral combat ship USS Coronado (LCS 4) steam in formation while transiting to Rim of the Pacific 2016. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Ryan Riley/Released)

Augment Naval Force Structure By Upgunning The Coast Guard

Alternative Naval Force Structure Topic Week

By Chuck Hill

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.

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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.

Platforms

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_TSL_Concept_Lockheed_Martin
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. 

mk56VLS&HarpoonLaunchersAbsolonClass
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)
VLSLauncher_korvet
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).

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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. 

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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 protection services 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.

Weapons

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.

Conclusion

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.

Chuck retired from the Coast Guard after 22 years service. Assignments included four ships, Rescue Coordination Center New Orleans, CG HQ, Fleet Training Group San Diego, Naval War College, and Maritime Defense Zone Pacific/Pacific Area Ops/Readiness/Plans. Along the way he became the first Coast Guard officer to complete the Tactical Action Officer (TAO) course and also completed the Naval Control of Shipping course. He has had a life-long interest in naval ships and history. Chuck writes for his blog, Chuck Hill’s CG blog.

Featured Image: Photo: The U.S. Coast Guard high endurance cutter USCGC Mellon (WHEC-717) launching a RGM-84 Harpoon missile during tests off Oxnard, California (USA), in January 1990. by PAC Ken Freeze, USCG

Why the Coast Guard Needs LRASM in Peacetime

By Chuck Hill

The Coast Guard has a problem. It is not currently equipped to perform one of its missions, and it appears no other agency is prepared to cover the deficiency. The Long Range Anti-Ship Missile (LRASM) may be a possible solution.

The Mission

One of the Coast Guard’s peacetime missions is Ports, Waterways and Coastal Security (PWCS).

“The PWCS mission entails the protection of the U.S. Maritime Domain and the U.S. Marine Transportation System (MTS)…prevention and disruption of terrorist attacks… Conducting PWCS deters terrorists from using or exploiting the MTS as a means for attacks on U.S. territory, population centers, vessels, critical infrastructure, and key resources.”

The Shortfall

Implicit in this mission is that the service should have the capability to forcibly stop a non-compliant ship, any ship, of any size. If a crew is motivated by simple greed, a .50 caliber machine gun is probably enough to convince them to take their chances in court rather than resist, but if the crew is motivated by a fanatical, or even suicidal belief in a cause, they become much harder to stop.

Terrorist targets are limited only by their imagination. They might include something like the Mumbai attack, an assault on a bridge, an LNG tanker or facility, a nuclear power plant, a passenger ship, an SSBN departing on patrol, or they might use a vessel to bring in a nuclear weapon. 

The Coast Guard is an armed force at all times, but it is certainly not heavily armed. In fact, in terms of stopping a recalcitrant merchant ship, the Coast Guard seems relatively less capable now than they were eighty years ago.

This is because of the rapid growth in the size of merchant ships. Even the largest cutters with their 57 mm and 76 mm guns are far less capable of stopping today’s over 100,000 ton merchant vessels than the cutters of the 1930s, with their 5″ guns were against ships that were typically well under 10,000 tons.

Worse yet, the units that would actually be on scene to attempt to stop and board a ship suspected of being under the control of terrorists is unlikely to include any of the larger cutters because they seldom remain near harbor entrance. Rather, they are frequently sent well off shore. 

The Coast Guard simply does not have the capability to deal with a terrorist attack using a medium to large sized merchant ship, and it currently appears that there is no other organization capable of answering this threat in the 30 or more port complexes terrorists might find worthwhile targets.

Our Friends

Navy surface forces, in U.S. waters, are too geographically concentrated. Navy ships tend to be either in homeport, working up in specific geographic areas, deployed, or in transit to deploy. There are no Navy surface warships homeported in the Gulf of Mexico, on the East Coast north of the New Port News/Norfolk complex, in Alaska, or on the West coast between San Diego and Puget Sound with weapons equal to or better than those on cutters. For many ports, the nearest Navy surface vessel is hundreds of miles away.

Air Force, Navy, Marine, and Army Air are not on standby around the U.S. armed with anti-ship weapons. Of the Air Force, only some strategic aircraft are training for the anti-shipping mission. Fighters and attack aircraft do not. The author suspects the U.S. would not get a timely response from the Air Force to a no notice requirement to stop a maritime target. Units that are not trained for an anti-shipping role cannot be easily pressed into that mission.

A Possible Solution

LRASM, with an over 200 nautical mile range and the ability to strike selected locations on a target ship, could possibly provide an answer. If the U.S. fielded LRASM on all nine National Security Cutters (NSC) and 25 Offshore Patrol Cutters (OPC) currently planned, its over 200 mile range could cover virtually all of these ports, and likely have a weapon on target within 20 minutes of launch.

How It Might Work

The Coast Guard is developing a Maritime Domain Awareness system. Most likely, it will tap into the Navy’s system and over the horizon radars.

When the maritime domain awareness system detects the approach of a suspicious vessel, a small patrol vessel (WPB or WPC) is assigned to intercept it and conduct a boarding to determine the vessel’s nature and intent.

When the patrol vessel is assigned the intercept, a larger cutter that may be at some distance, but within range, would be directed to provide support in the form of a LRASM launch if necessary.

The patrol craft will transmit video, position, course, and speed during its approach which will allow the start of mission planning for an LRASM launch should it become necessary. The results of the patrol craft’s attempt to board will allow determination of hostile intent.

Once a determination of hostile intent has been made, and deadly force authorized, the supporting cutter can launch its weapon. The patrol craft will continually update the supporting cutter before and during the flight of the LRASM. Navy, Joint, and/or Allied procedures would be used to call for a strike, and should also work with other service’s assets if they are available.

LRASM_TSL_Concept_Lockheed_Martin
LRASM topside launcher concept. The size and weight are comparable to launchers for Harpoon. Photo: Lockheed Martin.

Is It Affordable?

It is likely cutters could be equipped to carry eight missiles, but for peacetime purposes, two per ship would almost certainly meet the Coast Guard’s needs. Since some ships will always be in maintenance with ammunition removed, and others may be deployed where carrying the weapons would be counterproductive. The Coast Guard is unlikely to ever require more than about 50 missiles to meet its peacetime needs. A very rough estimate of LRASM unit cost would be something on the order of $2M to $5M each. That means the total cost of the missiles is likely between $100M and $250M. Adding launchers, control systems, and installations to cost would almost certainly be less than $500M. These costs would be spread over several years. This gives only an order of magnitude estimate, but it is several orders of magnitude less than the cost of other systems being deployed to protect the U.S. from attack.

Since the missiles, their launchers, and control systems are Navy type/Navy Owned equipment, the Navy would be responsible for paying for them. The cost of adding another four missiles per year for the Coast Guard to the Navy’s buy for LRASM could be lost in the rounding errors in the Navy budget.

For the Coast Guard, the program would probably require no more than 150 additional billets ashore and afloat. Not insignificant, but doable.

Conclusion

If the LRASM performs as advertised, its combination of range, warhead, and intelligent targeting may allow the Coast Guard’s small, but widely distributed force to effectively cover virtually the entire U.S. coast. 

 Chuck retired from the Coast Guard after 22 years service. Assignments included four ships, Rescue Coordination Center New Orleans, CG HQ, Fleet Training Group San Diego, Naval War College, and Maritime Defense Zone Pacific/Pacific Area Ops/Readiness/Plans. Along the way he became the first Coast Guard officer to complete the Tactical Action Officer (TAO) course and also completed the Naval Control of Shipping course. He has had a life-long interest in naval ships and history. Chuck writes for his blog, Chuck Hill’s CG blog.

Featured Image: USCG National Security Cutter BERTHOLF. Photo: U.S. Department of Homeland Security.