Tag Archives: Coast Guard

The U. S. Coast Guard in the South China Sea: Strategy or Folly?

By Michael D. Armour, Ph.D.

Introduction

Recently there has been discussions at the highest level of the U.S. military concerning the deployment of U.S. Coast Guard assets to the South China sea and integrating them into the freedom of navigation operations (FONOPS) conducted by the U.S. Navy relating to the manmade atolls constructed by the Chinese and subsequently claimed as Chinese sovereign territory. It may be that these U.S. Coast Guard units, if deployed to the area, may turn out to be a combat multiplier or a diplomatic plus. However, given the meager USCG budget and the limited assets of the service, their deployment may prove to be insignificant or even fraught with danger.

Chinese Territorial Expansion Claims

The South China Sea (SCS) has become a flashpoint on the world stage. The People’s Republic of China has asserted territorial claims for many islands in the Spratly and Parcel groups that other nations, such as Viet Nam and the Philippines, claim as their own sovereign territory. In addition to these claims, the Chinese have occupied and militarized many of the manmade atolls which they have constructed in the same area. The photo below of Fiery Cross Reef in the Spratly chain illustrates the militarization of these artificial atoll platforms and the amount of military hardware that has been installed on many of them.1

Fiery Cross Reef (CSIS AMTI)

Jeremy Bender reports that U.S. officials estimate that the Chinese construction at Fiery Cross Reef could accommodate an airstrip long enough for most of Beijing’s military aircraft and that China is also expanding manmade islands on Johnson South Reef, Johnson North Reef, Cuarteron Reef, and Gaven Reef around the Spratlys  He goes on to say that China appears to be expanding and upgrading military and civilian infrastructures including radars, satellite communication equipment, antiaircraft and naval guns, helipads and docks on some of the manmade atolls. These would likely be used as launching points for aerial defense operations in support of Chinese naval vessels in the southern reaches of the SCS.2 Additionally, China considers the waters surrounding these islands to be sovereign territory requiring foreign vessel notification before approaching the 12-mile limit.

U.S. Opposition

An international tribunal in The Hague ruled against China’s behavior in the SCS, including its construction of artificial islands, and found that its expansive claim to sovereignty over the waters had no legal basis. The tribunal also stated that China had violated international law by causing “irreparable harm” to the marine environment.3 In relation to this the U. S. Navy has conducted freedom of navigation operations (FONOPS) around these atolls. On October 27, 2015, the guided missile destroyer USS Lassen transited within 12 nautical miles of Subi Reef, one of China’s artificially-built features in the SCS.4 On 10 May, 2016 the USS William P. Lawrence, a guided missile destroyer, sailed within 12 nautical miles of Fiery Cross Reef in the Spratly Islands.5 Also, in early 2016, USS Curtis Wilbur (DDG-54) came within 12 nautical miles of Triton Island in the Paracels without prior notification.6 According to Alex Lockie the Trump administration may be willing to continue these confrontational FONOPs which will surely heighten tensions in the area.7

Enter the China Coast Guard

The China Coast Guard (CCG) is a critical tool in the effort to secure China’s maritime interests. According to the U.S. Department of Defense, the enlargement and modernization of the China Coast Guard has improved China’s ability to enforce its maritime claims. In relation

to this, a survey conducted by China Power showed that of the 50 major incidents identified in the SCS, from 2010 onward, at least one CCG (or other Chinese maritime law enforcement) vessel was involved in 76 percent of incidents. Four additional incidents involved a Chinese naval vessel acting in a maritime law enforcement capacity, raising that number to 84 percent.8 China now possesses the world’s largest blue-water coast guard fleet and that it uses its law-enforcement cutters as an instrument of foreign policy.9 In relation to this, analysts conclude that in the flashpoints in the South China Sea, the Chinese are deploying coast guard ships and armed fishing vessels instead of its regular navy assets.10

Crest of the China Coast Guard

Enter the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG)?

In January of 2017, Robbin Laird conducted an interview with the Commandant of the USCG, Admiral Paul Zukunft. He quoted the Admiral as stating the following in regard to the Coast Guard’s possible role in the SCS:

“I have discussed with the CNO (Chief of Naval Operations) the concept that we would create a permanent USCG presence in the South China Sea and related areas. This would allow us to expand our working relationship with Vietnam, the Philippines, and Japan. We can spearhead work with allies on freedom of navigation exercises as well.”11

The proposal to deploy USCG assets to the SCS was also espoused by David Barno and Nora Bensahel, who offered ways in which the United States could try to deter further Chinese encroachments in the SCS. One of their scenarios included the U.S. countering aggressive Chinese tactics by establishing a regular and visible Coast Guard presence in the area. They went on to say that:

“Only the United States has a major global coast guard capability, but some regional and even some international partners might be able to assist. As China has demonstrated, Coast Guard vessels are less provocative than warships, and their employment by the United States and partners could confront similar Chinese ships with far less risk of military escalation.”12

Others disagree with the above assessment. Brian Chao notes that the use of coast guard or constabulary forces in the South China Sea might actually increase the risk of war instead of easing tensions. He notes that using these forces as a diplomatic tool could lull all participants into a false sense of calm; however, these constabulary forces may be more willing to take aggressive actions because they may believe that the law is on their side.13

In addition to this negative stance, Aaron Picozzi and Lincoln Davidson question whether or not the U.S. Coast Guard could handle a mission in the South China Sea. They point out the reality that the U.S. Coast Guard lacks the capacity to base a “visible” presence in the SCS and that due to budget restraints, it simply does not have the ship capacity to carry out effective, sustained patrols in that area of operations. They also claim that the placement of U.S. Coast Guard cutters in the SCS would create a void in the service’s main mission, namely law enforcement, or search and rescue operations in home waters.14

If USCG assets are deployed to the SCS, it is hoped that because of the USCG’s good relations with its Chinese counterpart, tensions could be lessened and that U.S. interests could be better served. At this point, however, one must ask the following questions: What would happen if hostilities actually occurred and a situation arose pitting coast guard against coast guard? What kind of enemy capabilities and dangers would USCG personnel face?

The Capabilities, Structure, and Assets of the China Coast Guard

The China Coast Guard (CCG) was created in 2013 by the merging of five different organizations. These included the China Marine Surveillance (CMS); the Department of Agriculture’s China Fisheries Law Enforcement; the Ministry of Public Security’s Border Defense Coast Guard; and the Maritime Anti-Smuggling Police of the General Administration of Customs and the Ministry of Transport.15

The largest operational unit of the CCG is the flotilla, which is a regimental-level unit. Every coastal province has one to three Coast Guard flotillas and there are twenty CCG flotillas across the country.16 In 2015 the CCG possessed at least 79 ships displacing more than 1,000 tons, among which, at least 24 displace more than 3,000 tons. Most of these ships are not armed with deck guns but are equipped with advanced non-lethal weaponry, including water cannons and sirens.17  However, it seems that other CCG vessels are being armed with an array of more lethal weaponry. The China Daily Mail has reported that a number of CCG ships are being equipped with weapons which will give them greater strength to intensify law enforcement on the sea. The article also stated that China will transform many fishery administration and marine surveillance ships into armed coast guard cutters.18 The CCG has deployed a vessel (3901) that will carry 76mm rapid-fire guns, two auxiliary guns and two anti-aircraft machine guns. This monster ship, displacing 12,000 tons, is larger than U.S. Navy aegis-equipped surface combatants.          

Chinese Coast Guard Mega Cutter 3901 (China Defense Blog)

Jane’s 360 reported that images circulated on the Chinese internet indicate that the CCG has equipped its lead Type 818 vessel with the Type 630 30 mm close-in weapon system (CIWS).Two turrets of the system have been installed above the ship’s helicopter hangar, providing it with a means of defense against guided munitions and hostile aircraft. Information also indicates that the ship has also been armed with a 76 mm PJ-26 naval gun as its primary weapon.19

Lyle Goldstein relates that the Type 818 design discussed above can be rapidly configured into a naval combat frigate. He denotes the key characteristics for this class of ship, including, “134 meters in length, 15 meters at the beam, 3900 tons, and with a maximum speed of 27 knots. The ship is armed with a 76mm main gun, two heavy 30mm machine guns, four high pressure water cannons, and will also wield a Z-9 helicopter.”20

A photo taken by the Japan Coast Guard on Dec. 22 shows a Chinese coast guard ship equipped with what appear to be gun turrets (circled) cruising in a sea area near the Senkaku Islands in Okinawa Prefecture. (Japan Times)

Enter the Chinese Maritime Militia (CMM)

In addition to their coast guard assets, the Chinese also deploy a vast number of fishing and merchant vessels that comprise what is referred to as the Chinese Maritime Militia (CMM). China has the largest fishing fleet in the world and it uses these assets as a third force in their effort to control the South China Sea. The CMM is a paramilitary force that operates in conjunction with the CCG but is cloaked behind the international legal shield of being civilian commercial assets.21 A 1978 report estimated that China’s maritime militia consisted of 750,000 personnel and 140,000 vessels and a 2010 defense white paper reported that China had 8 million militia units with the CMM being a smaller subset of that group.

The CMM personnel are trained in activities such as reconnaissance, harassment and blocking maneuvers, and this organization possesses the potential to evolve into a more formidable maritime fighting force. Militia ships could be armed with light anti-ship missiles such as the C-101 or HY1-A and be trained in more elaborate tactics such as maritime swarm tactics interconnected by Network Centric Warfare (NCW).22

A crewmember on a Chinese trawler uses a grapple hook in an apparent attempt to snag the towed acoustic array of the military Sealift Command ocean surveillance ship USNS Impeccable (T-AGOS-23). Impeccable was conducting routine survey operations in international waters 75 miles south of Hainan Island when it was harassed by five Chinese vessels. (U.S. Navy photo/Released)

Conclusion

It is entirely possible that the introduction of U.S. Coast Guard assets into the South China Sea area of operations will result in positive results in the form of increased capabilities and support off U.S. FONOPS and that USCG “white hulls” will relieve tensions in a conflicted milieu. However, there is also a possibility that USCG forces may become embroiled in actual conflict in the area; therefore, a comprehensive risk analysis should be undertaken before any considerable commitment is undertaken and the mission should be considered a “go” only if the benefits heavily outweigh the costs.

If the U.S. Coast Guard is faced with conflict in the South China Sea, it will not be alone in the effort. The full weight of the U.S. military will also be present. U.S. forces will be confronted with three levels of threat. These include the formidable Chinese People’s Liberation Army Navy, the China Coast Guard, and the Chinese Maritime Militia.  It is obvious that the main counter to these entities will be the U.S. Navy and the allied navies in the area. The assets that the U.S. Coast Guard could contribute to the effort would be limited and the cost might be considerable. While such a mission would enhance the Coast Guard’s image, it may turn out to be folly rather than strategy.

Michael D Armour, Ph.D, retired as a Colonel from the U.S. Army and is an  Instructor of Political Science at The University of Memphis, Memphis, Tennessee. He served as Adjunct Professor of National Security Affairs at the U.S. Naval War College and holds an M.S.S. in Strategic Studies from the U.S. Army War College. He is a member of Flotilla 15-03, U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary, in Memphis, Tennessee.

References

[1] https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2015/07/30/world/asia/what-china-has-been-building-in-the-south-china-sea.html

[2] http://www.businessinsider.com/china-is-fortifying-position-in-south-china-sea-2015-1

[3] https://www.nytimes.com/2016/07/13/world/asia/south-china-sea-hague-ruling-philippines.html

[4] https://www.csis.org/analysis/us-asserts-freedom-navigation-south-china-sea

[5] https://www.lowyinstitute.org/the-interpreter/us-navy-carries-out-third-fonop-south-china-sea

[6]  https://news.usni.org/2017/07/02/u-s-destroyer-conducts-freedom-navigation-operation-south-china-sea-past-chinese-island

[7] http://www.businessinsider.com/us-navy-freedom-of-navigation-south-china-sea-fonops-2017-2

[8] https://chinapower.csis.org/maritime-forces-destabilizing-asia/

[9] https://www.usni.org/magazines/proceedings/2015-04-0/chinas-second-navy

[10] https://chinadailymail.com/2017/06/17/china-marks-south-china-sea-claims-with-coast-guard-marine-militias/

[11] http://roilogolez.blogspot.com/2017/01/trump-kelly-us-coast-guard-in-south.html

[12] https://warontherocks.com/2016/06/a-guide-to-stepping-it-up-in-the-south-china-sea/

[13] http://nationalinterest.org/feature/coast-guards-could-accidently-spark-war-the-south-china-16766

[14] https://warontherocks.com/2016/06/can-the-u-s-coast-guard-take-on-the-south-china-sea/

[15] Martinson, Ryan D., “From Words to Actions: The Creation of the China Coast Guard” A paper for the China as a “Maritime Power” Conference July 28-29, 2015 CNA Conference Facility Arlington, Virginia, p.2.

[16] https://www.revolvy.com/main/index.php?s=China%20Coast%20Guard&item_type=topic

[17] Martinson, op cit, pp. 44-45.

[18] https://chinadailymail.com/2013/06/19/china-coast-guard-ships-now-carry-weapons-in-south-china-sea/

[19] http://nationalinterest.org/blog/the-buzz/chinas-new-coast-guard-vessels-are-designed-rapid-conversion-18221

[20 http://www.manilalivewire.com/2016/02/china-is-arming-its-coast-guard-ships-with-sophisticated-weaponry-reports/

[22] Kraska, James and Monti, Michael, The Law of Naval Warfare and China’s Maritime Militia, International Law Studies, Vol. 91, 2015.

[23] http://dailycaller.com/2016/09/24/how-the-us-should-respond-to-chinas-secret-weapon/

[24] Armour, Michael D., The Chinese Maritime Militia: A Perfect Swarm? Journal of Defense Studies, Vol. 10, No.3, July-September 2016, pp. 21-39.

Featured Image: U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Boutwell returns to homeport in San Diego after a 90-day counter drug patrol in the Eastern Pacific Ocean, Oct. 6, 2014. During the patrol, the Boutwell participated in six separate cocaine interdictions. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Connie Terrell)

Narco Submarines: A Problem That Will Not Sink

The Southern Tide

Written by W. Alejandro Sanchez, The Southern Tide addresses maritime security issues throughout Latin America and the Caribbean. It discusses the challenges regional navies face including limited defense budgets, inter-state tensions, and transnational crimes. It also examines how these challenges influence current and future defense strategies, platform acquisitions, and relations with global powers.

“The security environment in Latin America and the Caribbean is characterized by complex, diverse, and non-traditional challenges to U.S. interests.” Admiral Kurt W. Tidd, Commander, U.S. Southern Command, before the 114th Congress Senate Armed Services Committee, 10 March 2016.

By W. Alejandro Sanchez

In the past year a number of narco submarines have been seized in several Latin American states. Narco submarines continue to be a problem as hemispheric security forces combat drug trafficking. Unfortunately for every narco sub that is seized, another is under construction. While recent successful operations should be applauded, combating narco subs needs a regional strategy of its own.

This commentary is a continuation of previous articles published by CIMSEC on this issue: “An Update on Narco Submarines and Maritime Law Enforcement Agencies’ Efforts to Thwart their Operational Effectiveness,” “Narco submarines: Drug Cartels’ Innovative Technology,” as well as the author’s “U.S. Southcom vs Caribbean Narco Pirates.” The incidents mentioned in this commentary will focus on events that have occurred over the past year. (The colloquial term “narco sub” will be utilized for these platforms, though we will later do a more thorough analysis of their characteristics.)

Recent Narco Sub Incidents

In recent months, several narco submarines have been seized in various Latin American states. For example, on 5 August, Ecuadoran marines located one in the Las Delicias area, close to the border with Colombia. For Colombia, a narco sub was seized in an operation by army and naval personnel in the San Juan and Baudó Rivers in the Choco department in late July. The platform, which was carrying approximately four tons of cocaine, was apparently manufactured by ELN rebels. The Colombian Navy explained that this was the first time a narco sub was operating in a river, and that it probably took some five to six months to be constructed. Not long after, in mid-August, the Colombian Navy located yet another narco sub, this time in the Nariño department and with the capacity to transport up to four tons of drugs. This one measured 14 meters, with a diesel motor and propellers, the Navy explained in a communiqué.

On the Ecuadorian Colombian border, the Colombian National Navy located and seized a submarine that had the capacity and autonomy to transport approximately five tons of cocaine. (Colombian National Navy photo)

Narco subs have also been located in Central America. For example, a narco sub, reportedly 16 meters in length and capable of transporting up to five tons of drugs, was found in Guatemala in mid-April. Months later, in late July, the Costa Rican Coast Guard found a similar illegal platform on a beach. Local authorities believe that the vessel, with the capacity to transport up to four tons of drugs, had a motor problem and was discarded by the crew, until it washed ashore and got stuck in the sand.

Catching Them At Sea

The aforementioned examples highlight one fact. So far, the vast majority of narco-platforms are captured in the mainland (meaning either on dry land or “docked” in some body of water), either before they depart or upon arriving to their destination.

As far as the author has been able to find, in the past couple of years, there have only been a couple of narco subs intercepted in open waters. One was in July 2015, when during a “joint operation, the U.S. Navy, U.S. Coast Guard, and assets from the Customs and Border Protection Office of Air and Marine, intercepted a “narco submarine” off the coast of El Salvador,” Business Insider explains. The platform was carrying over 16,000 pounds of cocaine.

U.S. Coast Guardsmen board a narco sub as part of a drug seizure in September 2016. (U.S. Coast Guard photo)

More recently, in early September 2016, the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Waesche intercepted a narco sub in the Pacific Ocean off the Central American coast. The Cutter reportedly launched two vessels and an armed helicopter in pursuit. U.S. personnel caught up with the sub, apprehended five suspects, and thwarted a scuttling attempt by pumping water out of the interior of the sub.” By preventing the sinking of the sub, the USCG seized more than 5,600 pounds of cocaine, with an estimated value of USD$73 million.

Who Finds The Narco Subs?

Nowadays, several Latin American and Caribbean navies and coast guards are undergoing a modernization process, which includes the acquisition of new platforms. For example, Colombia and Mexico are domestically manufacturing new fleets of patrol vessels. Christian Ehrlich, a director of intelligence for Riskop, a Mexican Strategic intelligence and risk control company explained to the author that  the Mexican Navy is in the process of adding Damen Sigma 10514 frigates to its fleet, “this will provide a decisive boost to Mexico’s Maritime Domain Awareness but unfortunately it will be some time before this system has an acceptable operational level” (construction for the first of the new frigates commenced in mid-August). Meanwhile The Bahamas is in the final stretch of its ambitious Sandy Bottom Project, via which it is obtaining a fleet of different patrol boats from Damen Group. Similarly, in late June IHS Jane’s reported that Louisiana-based shipbuilder Metal Shark and Damen will construct near coastal patrol vessels (NCPVs) for regional U.S. partners like “the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Honduras, Costa Rica, Guatemala.” It is worth noting that Mr. Ehrlich, remarked how Mexico possesses aircraft like CASA CN—235 and Beechcraft King Air 350ER for ISR; Colombia also possesses similar assets.

Nevertheless, in spite of more modern navies and coast guards, locating narco subs at sea continues to be a problem. In an interview with the author, Gustavo Fallas, a journalist for the Costa Rican daily La Nacion, explained that “[Costa Rica] depends on the Americans to combat [narco submarines]. In 2006 we detained a submersible with three tons [of drugs] and it was thanks to an American frigate. In 2012 we chased another one in the Caribbean, and it was also after the Americans alerted us. For those reasons it is vital to have U.S. aid to locate these platforms.” Mr. Fallas added that Costa Rica must create a shield (meaning more vessels, radars, personnel) to prevent drug traffickers from using the country as a warehouse or transit path for drugs.

Unfortunately, Randy Pestana, a policy analyst at Florida International University’s Jack D. Gordon Institute for Public Policy, has a gloomy assessment about regional naval forces vis-à-vis narco subs. Mr. Pestana explained to the author how “relying on partner nations to stop, slow, or detain these shipments is difficult in itself as they do not have the necessary tools to do so unless provided by the U.S.” Of a similar opinion is Mr. Ehrlich, who stated to the author that “there isn’t a navy or coast guard in Central America with the [necessary platforms] to detect, follow and interdict [narco submarines].” 

In other words, Central American navies will continue to rely on the U.S. (be it SOUTCHOM or the Coast Guard) to monitor maritime areas in order to combat, among other threats, narco submarines. This is problematic, since, as Mr. Pestana remarked, even U.S. security agencies have limits to their abilities, particularly nowadays when the U.S. has other security operations and geopolitical concerns around the globe. Furthermore, there is the problematic and ever-present red tape, namely, “the inability of the U.S. to respond to an identified narco submarine without permission from higher leadership. This often led to the narco submarine to either get away, or move out of the U.S. areas of operation,” the FIU expert explained.

How To Find A Narco Sub

Locating a narco submarine at sea is a tricky business. In an interview with the author, Mario Pedreros, a retired Chilean Naval officer and an expert in airborne maritime patrol, provided an excellent analysis on this problem.

As previously mentioned, the term narco submarine is commonly utilized for these vessels, however they are not really submarines. As Mr. Pedreros explains, these platforms are semi-submersibles, meaning that they cannot go completely underwater, and if they can do so, it is for brief periods of time. (“Narco submarine” is still a catchier name than “narco-semi-submersible” though). However, even if these vessels cannot fully dive, they are nonetheless difficult to locate at sea. Mr. Pedreros explained how some of these platforms have electronic motors, which makes them more silent than diesel engines, making them harder to find with passive sonar. “When it comes to semi-submersibles, utilizing  sonar is not very efficient,” Mr. Pedreros concludes. Adding to the problem is that the vessel is pretty small, and “once at sea, the submersibles have 20 percent of their structure above the surface,” making them hard to pinpoint by radar.

A narco submarine found by the Costan Rican Coast Guard (MSP)

Mr. Pedreros recommended maritime patrol aircraft (MPA) as an ideal tool to combat narco submarines at sea, as these aircraft possess superior sensors and radars for intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance. Obviously, locating the target is only part of the solution, because then it has to be intercepted. “The aircraft must work with together with a vessel to capture the submersible. In other words, there are three components in this process: an aircraft (MPA), a vessel, and a light boat that can board the submersible and detain the crew,” the retired Chilean Naval officer explained. As previously discussed, various Latin American and Caribbean navies are acquiring OPVs with attached light boats, while Colombia and Mexico have platforms for maritime patrol, fulfilling the requirements by Mr. Pedreros; what is needed is greater multinational support, apart from additional platforms. 

The Future of the Narco Sub

It would be naïve to assume that recent successful operations by regional security forces will convince drug traffickers to stop investing in narco submarines. There is simply too much money to be made in drugs, and the subs cost only around USD$1 million to manufacture. Even if five narco subs are stopped, drug traffickers only need one or two successful deliveries to make up for their losses.

Moreover, recently seized narco subs show they are becoming more technologically advanced, including bigger in size so they can transport greater quantities of contraband. The narco sub seized in mid-July in Choco had space for a crew of four, measured 9 meters in length by 4 wide, had radars, stabilizers, ballast weights and was powered by over 100 batteries, according to the Colombian daily El Colombiano.

Indeed, the (brief) history of narco subs shows a trend towards modernization, particularly as drug lords are always looking for new methods to transport drugs, from Cessna aircraft and go-fast boats during the Pablo Escobar era to drones and narco subs nowadays (though of course, narcos continue to utilize the former as well). Mr. Pestana drives this home remarking how “top drug traffickers are relatively smart and have a good grasp on technology and history.” Moreover, the attractive wages narco-organizations can afford to pay means that they can hire “former engineers or other trade workers,” as Mr. Pestana explains, to continuously improve previous designs.

Final Thoughts

From a scholarly point of view, the appearance of the narco sub is a fascinating development as it highlights drug traffickers’ ingenuity as they continuously think of new ways of transporting their contraband. Unfortunately, this represents an ongoing problem for regional security forces, as new narco subs become more technologically advanced. Unfortunately, even though many narco subs have been stopped, it only takes one successful trip to make a large profit.

In spite of several successful operations, combating narco submarines requires both a multiagency and multinational strategy of its own. Mr. Ehlrich stresses the necessity to disrupt the construction of these platforms (which requires cooperation between police and military units). As for when narco submarines are at sea, the Greater Central American region requires united front, such as a regional anti-narco submarine task force. By combining resources, in which member states can contribute platforms to create the three-platform interception teams that Mr. Pedreros described, this unit would ideally be more successful at locating narco subs at sea, and not just in inland waterways. This will decrease the region’s dependency on the U.S., which Mr. Pestana and Mr. Fallas highlighted.

Unfortunately, narco submarines are a problem that will not sink, hence new strategies are needed in order to combat them more efficiently.

W. Alejandro Sanchez is a researcher who focuses on geopolitical, military and cyber security issues in the Western Hemisphere. Follow him on Twitter: @W_Alex_Sanchez

The author would like to thank the various experts that contributed to this commentary:

Christian J. Ehrlich, Director of Intelligence, Riskop; External Analyst, Mexican Navy

Gustavo Fallas, Journalist, La Nacion (Costa Rica)

Mario Pedreros, a retired Chilean Navy Officer, expert in aero-maritime patrol. He participated as a Tactical Coordinator Officer (TACCO) in different missions overseas onboard Chilean Navy P-3 Orion aircrafts. Missions include Anti Submarine Warfare, Anti Surface Warfare, Anti Terrorism missions and Search and Rescue operations. He is currently based in Washington, DC. doing consulting for several Defense and Security companies.

Randy Pestana, Policy Analyst, Jack D. Gordon Institute for Public Policy, Florida International University

The views presented in this essay are the sole responsibility of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of any institutions with which the author is associated.

Featured Image: Members of the Colombian Navy stand guard on a seized submarine built by drug smugglers in a makeshift shipyard in Timbiqui, Cauca department. Colombian authorities said the submersible craft was to be used to transport 8 tons of cocaine into Mexico. (REUTERS/Jaime Saldarriaga)

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.

image-4
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)