Tag Archives: Cutter

Designate the 9th National Security Cutter an Arctic Flagship

This article was originally posted by The Arctic Institute. It can be read in its original form here.

By Ryan Uljua

Following a sly piece of last-minute legislative maneuvering, the US Congress is now widely expected to fund a ninth National Security Cutter (NSC) for the Coast Guard. The ninth NSC will join the originally planned eight ships, six of which have already been built. Unlike Congress, President Obama’s Office of Management and Budget has deemed the 9th NSC an “unnecessary” luxury. However, now that funding for the ship is all but guaranteed, the Administration should work with Congress and the Coast Guard to transform the so-called “luxury” ship into a vital national asset in the US Arctic. 

While the Coast Guard’s icebreaker deficiency consumes most of the headlines, the service is also facing a looming shortage of capable, versatile cutters in the Arctic that can perform more traditional Coast Guard missions. Today, the Coast Guard’s permanent major cutter presence in the vast Alaska-Bering Sea-Arctic region (the Coast Guard 17th District) consists of the Hamilton-class high endurance cutter Munro and the medium endurance cutter Alex Haley, both homeported in Kodiak, Alaska. Although capable vessels, the two ships are 45 years old apiece  even ―older than the Coast Guard’s sole aging heavy icebreaker Polar Star―and are due for retirement. Most concerning, the Munro, the nation’s sole high endurance cutter homeported north of Seattle, Washington, is slated to be retired with no clear replacement in the works. The injection of a fresh, reliable, and highly capable Coast Guard cutter is sorely needed in the vast 17th District. With a few simple measures, the newly funded 9th NSC can be modified to meet the pressing need for a modern, year-round flagship in the American Arctic.

Homeport in Kodiak, Alaska

At least three current NSCs―USCGCs Bertholf, Waesche, and Stratton―have conducted long-range seasonal patrols in Alaska and the Arctic in recent years as part of annual Arctic Shield exercises. During these seasonal patrols, the ships have exceeded nearly all performance expectations, especially in terms of their Command, Control, Communications, Computers, Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (C4ISR) capabilities. A single NSC is said to have more C4ISR abilities than every other Coast Guard asset in the 17th District combined. The NSC also far outclasses the US heavy icebreaker Polar Star and the medium icebreaker Healy when it comes to C4ISR capabilities, essential for fulfilling the role of a regional command ship. As commercial and security activities increase in the American Arctic, a highly-capable command and control ship permanently located in-theater will be essential for coordinating and managing increasingly complex missions.

Today, every time a NSC leaves its homeport in Alameda, CA to conduct summertime Arctic Shield patrols, it loses approximately 40 operational days to travel time just to reach the theater. Permanently homeporting the 9th NSC in Kodiak, Alaska would help offset this geographic reality and dramatically reduce the number of operational days lost to transit while also providing an improved, year-round presence in the US Arctic region. Unfortunately, when a current NSC deploys to the Arctic for annual Arctic Shield patrols, it must also abandon other vital missions in the lower 48 states. An example of this, the Coast Guard was forced to suspend  counter-narcotics missions in the Pacific and Caribbean to meet seasonal demands in the Arctic in the summer of 2015 when Shell was conducting exploration activities in the Chukchi Sea. The NSC Waesche was diverted from a mission prosecuting cocaine traffickers in the Caribbean to help provide support for Shell in the Arctic—a trade off that Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Zunkuft lamented as a significant “opportunity cost.”

Some may argue that the Coast Guard’s icebreakers, a classic symbol of American Arctic presence, are themselves homeported in Seattle, WA, and not in Alaska. However, the icebreaker fleet is required to travel both north to the Arctic as well as south to the Antarctic for annual Operation Deep Freeze missions. The old icebreakers also take a beating and generally require larger and more specialized maintenance facilities. Some additional shore-based maintenance personnel and facilities would likely be needed in Kodiak, Alaska to accommodate the larger, more advanced NSC. Fortunately, expensive upgrades were already funded and performed in 2014 on pier infrastructure at Coast Guard Base Kodiak to physically accommodate a NSC on a regular year-round basis.

Homeporting the 9th NSC in Kodiak would offer the Coast Guard a permanent, go-to Arctic command and control ship that can serve to coordinate any and all regional operations.

Ice-strengthen the Hull

While homeporting the 9th NSC in Kodiak instead of places like Alameda, CA or Honolulu, HI would reduce the number of operational days lost to travel time, efforts to ice-strengthen the hull of the ship during its construction phase would extend its Arctic operating window even further. Ice-strengthening the 9th NSC so that it can handle light and medium first-year sea ice, typically up to 0.5 m (1.6 ft) in thickness, would extend the ship’s Arctic operating window by an estimated 40–75 days―making a permanent Arctic deployment more feasible. 

The medium endurance cutter Alex Haley that is currently homeported in Kodiak, AK has had mild ice-strengthening measures applied to its hull, allowing the ship to operate in very light ice conditions. Nonetheless, the light ice-strengthening of the Alex Haley’s hull gives the ship great operational flexibility in the Arctic. Ice-strengthening the 9th Kodiak-based NSC would give the new ship even greater operational flexibility in the 17th District, particularly as the 45-year-old Alex Haley, once dubbed “The Bulldog of the Bering,” comes due for retirement. 

Representatives from the NSC project’s prime contractor, Huntington Ingalls Industries (HII), have previously indicated that ice-strengthening the hull of an NSC is achievable and can be done at a relatively low cost. The structural changes would primarily involve reinforcing the hull, adding an improved engine cooling system, and protecting external components from ice damage. These measures would have little negative impact on performance, with some analyses showing that ice-strengthening a NSC would increase the ship’s weight by 75 tons while only reducing its maximum speed from 28 to 27 knots.

At the current rate of NSC construction, the 9th NSC can be expected to launch in 2021-2022, just as the estimated 8-year-long construction of the Coast Guard’s newest heavy icebreaker is scheduled to begin. Not only would the new NSC serve as a fresh replacement for the aging Munro at Kodiak, its ice-strengthened hull would also help fill a light icebreaking need in the region to access areas of thin, first-year sea ice that non-strengthened ships would avoid without icebreaker escort.

The primary contractor for the NSC, HII, is one of the leading candidates to build the Coast Guard’s new heavy icebreaker and has good incentive to ice-strengthen the 9th NSC. The shipbuilding giant could use the opportunity to demonstrate to the Coast Guard it’s ability to build hulls that are capable of taking on Arctic conditions ahead of the new icebreaker acquisition.

Ice-strengthening the hull of the 9th NSC would obviously require more funds on top of the $640 million Congress has already earmarked for the ship. However, given Congress’s apparent enthusiasm for funding additional NSC―there are rumblings that they are open to funding a 10th NSC in 2017―securing the additional funds from the legislative branch does not appear like it will be a challenge. Fellow Arctic nations and NATO allies have pursued similar “slush breaker” models for ice-strengthened patrol vessels at reasonable prices, most notably the successful Norwegian ship NoCGV Svalbard.

An Arctic Legacy

President Obama’s recent actions, including his final budget request and the recent state visit with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, demonstrate a desire to leave an Arctic policy legacy. His final budget request allocates serious funds to acquiring a new icebreaker and devotes $400 million to resettling Alaskan coastal villages at risk due to climate change. Now, if President Obama is serious about leaving an enduring mark on US Arctic policy during his final months in office, his Administration should work with Congress and the Coast Guard to transform the once “luxury” ninth National Security Cutter into America’s flagship cutter in the Arctic.

Ryan Uljua is a graduate of the George Washington University’s Elliott School of International Affairs, where he focused on security and defense policy as well as geographic information systems (GIS) and remote sensing. Previously, Ryan has worked at The American Interest Magazine, International Relief and Development (IRD), and the International NGO Safety and Security Association (INSSA) in Washington, DC. Ryan currently works as an Intelligence Analyst at an international risk management and crisis response firm based in Boston, Massachusetts.

“A Design for Maintaining Maritime Superiority”–A Coastie’s View

By Chuck Hill

Recently the new Chief of Naval Operations issued a document “Design for Maintaining Maritime Superiority” that outlines how, hopefully, the US Navy can maintain a maritime superiority our foes will recognize and avoid confronting.

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If you look for anything specifically regarding the Coast Guard here, you will not find it (other than the cutter in the formation on the cover). The Coast Guard is not mentioned even once, but it does talk about some things that are Coast Guard related. Perhaps the Coast Guard should not feel bad about this. It only mentions the Marine Corps once.

Three Forces that are Changing the Environment

  • The first global force is the traffic on the oceans, seas, and waterways, including the sea floor – the classic maritime system.
  • A second increasingly influential force is the rise of the global information system – the information that rides on the servers, undersea cables, satellites, and wireless networks that increasingly envelop and connect the globe.
  • The third interrelated force is the increasing rate of technological creation and adoption.

Obviously the Coast Guard facilitates and regulates marine traffic, and is tapped into the global information system. In wartime, these contacts will become essential since they will form the basis for naval control of shipping. He also talks about new trade routes opening in the Arctic. These will only be reliable if we have new icebreakers. He also talks about illegal trafficking.

“This maritime traffic also includes mass and uncontrolled migration and illicit shipment of material and people.”

A Document That Explicitly Recognizes the Competition

“For the first time in 25 years, the United States is facing a return to great power competition. Russia and China both have advanced their military capabilities to act as global powers. Their goals are backed by a growing arsenal of high-end warfighting capabilities, many of which are focused specifically on our vulnerabilities and are increasingly designed from the ground up to leverage the maritime, technological and information systems. They continue to develop and field information-enabled weapons, both kinetic and non-kinetic, with increasing range, precision and destructive capacity. Both China and Russia are also engaging in coercion and competition below the traditional thresholds of high-end conflict, but nonetheless exploit the weakness of accepted norms in space, cyber and the electromagnetic spectrum. The Russian Navy is operating with a frequency and in areas not seen for almost two decades, and the Chinese PLA(N) is extending its reach around the world.

“…Coupled with a continued dedication to furthering its nuclear weapons and missile programs, North Korea’s provocative actions continue to threaten security in North Asia and beyond.

“…while the recent international agreement with Iran is intended to curb its nuclear ambitions, Tehran’s advanced missiles, proxy forces and other conventional capabilities continue to pose threats to which the Navy must remain prepared to respond.

“…international terrorist groups have proven their resilience and adaptability and now pose a long-term threat to stability and security around the world.”

Recognizing Budgetary Limitations

“There is also a fourth ‘force’ that shapes our security environment. Barring an unforeseen change, even as we face new challenges and an increasing pace, the Defense and Navy budgets likely will continue to be under pressure. We will not be able to “buy” our way out of the challenges that we face. The budget environment will force tough choices but must also inspire new thinking.”

Throughout there is an emphasis on understanding history and the strategic concepts of the past. There is also a recognition of the need to work with partners.

“EXPAND AND STRENGTHEN OUR NETWORK OF PARTNERS: Deepen operational relationships with other services, agencies, industry, allies and partners – who operate with the Navy to support our shared interests.”

Other than the Marine Corps, the US Navy has no closer partner than the US Coast Guard. And while only about one eighth the size of the US Navy, in terms of personnel, the US Coast Guard is larger than Britain’s Royal Navy or the French Navy. The partnership has been a long and successful one, but I would like to see the Navy be a better partner to the Coast Guard. This is how the Navy can help the Coast Guard help the Navy. 

What I Want to See

If we have a “run out of money, now we have to think” situation, one thing we can do is to try to get the maximum return from the relatively small investment needed to make the Coast Guard an effective naval reserve force.

Webber Class WPC, USCGC Margaret Norvell
Webber Class WPC, USCGC Margaret Norvell

We need explicit support from the Navy at every level, particularly within Congress and the Administration, for Coast Guard recapitalization. While the Navy’s fleet averages approximately 14 years old. The Coast Guard’s major cutters average over 40. The proposed new ships, are more capable than those they replace. They are better able to work cooperatively with the Navy. The nine unit 4,500 ton “National Security Cutter” program is nearing completion with funds for the ninth ship in the FY2016 budget. The 58 unit, 154 foot, 353 ton Webber Class  program is well underway with 32 completed, building, or funded. But the Coast Guard is about to start its largest acquisition in history, 25 LCS sized Offshore Patrol Cutters. Unfortunately, it appears that while the first ship will be funded in FY2018 the last will not be completed until at least 2035. This program really needs to be accelerated. 

We need an explicit statement from the Navy that they expect the Coast Guard to defend ports against unconventional threats, so that they can keep more forces forward deployed. This is in fact the current reality. The Sea Frontiers are long gone. Navy vessels no longer patrol the US coast. The surface Navy is concentrated in only a handful of ports. No Navy surface combatants are homeported on the East Coast north of the Chesapeake Bay. If a vessel suspected of being under the control of terrorists approaches the US coast the nearest Navy surface vessel may be hundreds of miles away.  

We need the Navy to supply the weapons the Coast Guard need to defend ports against unconventional attack using vessels of any size, with a probability approaching 100%. These should include small missile systems like Hellfire or Griffin to stop small, fast, highly maneuverable threats and we need a ship stopper, probably a light weight anti-ship torpedoes that target propellers to stop larger threats. We need these systems on not just the largest cutters, in fact they are needed more by the the smaller cutters that are far more likely to be in a position to make a difference. These include the Webber class and perhaps even the smaller WPBs.

We need to reactivate the Coast Guard’s ASW program and ensure that all the new large cutters (National Security Cutters and Offshore Patrol Cutters) have an ASW capability, if not installed on all of the cutters, at least planned, prototyped, tested, and practiced on a few ships (particularly in the Pacific). The National Security Cutters and the Offshore Patrol Cutters are (or will be) capable of supporting MH-60R ASW helicopters. Adding a towed array like CAPTAS-4 (the basis for the LCS ASW module) or CAPTAS-2 would give them a useful ASW capability that could be used to escort ARGs, fleet train, or high value cargo shipments. Towed arrays might even help catch semi-submersible drug runners in peacetime. 

One of three contending designs for the Offshore Patrol Cutter
One of three contending designs for the planned 25 Offshore Patrol Cutters.

The Coast Guard is the low end of America’s Naval high-low mix. It is a source of  numbers when numbers are needed. The Coast Guard has more assets for low end functions like blockade than the Navy. The Navy has about 105 cruisers, destroyers, LCS, PCs, and is not expected to have more than 125 similar assets for the forseeable future. The Coast Guard has about 165 patrol cutters  including 75 patrol boats 87 feet long, about 50 patrol craft 110 to 154 feet in length (58 Webber class WPCs are planned), and about 40 ships 210 foot or larger that can be called on, just as they were during the Vietnam War, when the Coast Guard operated as many as 33 vessels off the coast in support of Operation MarketTime, in spite of the fact that the Navy had almost three times as many surface warships as they do now. The current program of record will provide 34 new generation cutters including nine 4500 ton National Security Cutters and 25 Offshore Patrol Cutters that should be at least 2500 tons.

The Coast Guard provides peacetime maritime security, but is currently under-armed even for this mission. A small investment could make it far more useful in wartime.

(Note here is another post on this looking at the “design” from a Navy point of view.)

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 normally writes for his blog, Chuck Hill’s CG blog.  

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Naval Build-Up in the Philippines

Like many of its regional peers, the Philippines is in the midst of a defense buildup, motivated in no small part by China’s assertive moves in the western Philippine Sea and the resource-rich Spratly islands. 
              
The donation this week of two Balikpapan-class Landing Craft Heavy (LCH) from Australia was the most recent boost to Philippines defense efforts. 
        
The LCH donation is particularly timely, as it complements the upcoming pair of Strategic Sealift Vessels (SSV), being built by PT PAL Indonesia. Based on the Indonesian navy’s successful Makassar-class Landing Platform Dock (LPD), the 8,600-ton amphibious lift ships can transit to remote areas and serve as a mobile base for helicopters and smaller landing craft. As evidenced during Typhoon Haiyan, the dearth of such assets hampered the Philippine government’s aid response to the hardest-hit parts of the country. 
          
As gifts stand, the donation of ex-HMAS Tarakan and Brunei is particularly generous – the Royal Australian Navy will hand them over fully refurbished with new safety and navigation components, plus spare parts packages. Manila is considering purchasing the three remaining LCHs as well. 
       
While the media focus of Manila’s defense acquisitions under the Capability Upgrade Program has been centered on big-ticket items to restore basic conventional force capabilities, there have been other, quieter acquisitions that directly support war-fighting and maritime domain awareness (MDA). 
         
Notably, the service signed a Memorandum of Understanding in 2014 with the Philippine National Oil Company to transfer three retired 2,500 ton petroleum tank ships. This acquisition would enable fuel replenishment at sea and increase on-station time for high-endurance assets like the patrol frigates Ramon Alcaraz and Gregorio Del Pilar, both formerly U.S. Coast Guard Hamilton-class cutters.  
Another low-profile capability is the National Coast Watch Center program—a surveillance system designed to monitor oceanic traffic in the western Philippine Sea.
              
As expected, details of this national intelligence capability are closely held, but much of it is likely based on the successful implementation of the earlier Coast Watch South program. With heavy U.S. assistance, the Philippines created a network of monitoring stations combining radar, maritime surveillance and radio/data networks that provides a real-time strategic and tactical “picture” of oceanic traffic in the Southern Philippines—the so-called Sulawesi Sea Triangle. That area is a hotbed of illicit trafficking by sea and a favored logistical trail for transnational insurgent forces that prowl the region. When completed in 2015, the west-facing Coast Watch chain will monitor the Philippines’ Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), extending 200 nm into the contested Spratly Islands group. In the future, additional monitoring chains will cover the Northern and Eastern facing portions of the country as well. 
           
The most recent, visible and well-publicized modernization program has been the integration of the multipurpose helicopter program with the patrol frigate force. Five Augusta-Westland A109s twin-engine helicopters equipped with forward-looking infrared have been delivered to the fleet to replace long-retired BO-105s. From an operational perspective, the navy has made quick strides to integrating the air asset with ships of the line. The AW109s had a maiden deployment on board Ramon Alcaraz during the Australian multinational military exercise Kakadu 2014, approximately eight months after receiving the first helicopters. 
          
Out of all the projects to restore capabilities, the navy is still awaiting final determination of its premier acquisition – the multi-role frigate. The Philippines wants to buy two units to serve as major and modern combatants of the patrol frigate force. While the negotiations have been stymied by a complex two-phase process, a list of qualified bidders has emerged, including well-known Spanish shipbuilder Navantia and several South Korean firms, among others. A winning bid was to be selected in late 2014, but the acquisition process reportedly has been complicated by efforts to separate the tracks of selecting a ship from the embedded weapon systems. This may have to do with current challenges of the Philippines not being easily cleared for purchases of regional-balance changing weapons, such as a long-range surface-to-surface missile, with which this ship class is normally equipped.  
          
The Armed Forces of the Philippines has benefited under President Benigno Aquino III’s administration. To date, multiple modernization programs have either reached significant acquisition stages or have been completed entirely during his tenure. 
         
However, as the new paint smell wears off for the navy, the historical challenges that have haunted its past acquisitions and programs loom. It is critical that the next presidential administration continue to support the acquisitions, as well as the services, both politically and fiscally. The navy needs to ensure that internal expertise among the ranks to maintain their newly acquired equipment is present and sustainable. Above all, operating effectively and efficiently at sea continues to be the primary objective. The nation’s seafaring history and ties to the maritime culture give impetus to the current goals of ensuring territorial integrity and establishing a credible defense. Given the relatively rapid pace of modernization, the Philippine navy is well on the road to restoring the capabilities necessary to meet those demands. 
                               
Armando J. Heredia is a civilian observer of naval affairs. He is an IT Risk and Information Security practitioner based in New England, with a background in the defense and financial services industries. He is a regular contributor to the Center for International Maritime Security’s NextWar blog.  
                             
This article can be found here in its original form on the USNI website and was republished by permission.

 

Taiwan Builds a Very Different Cutter X

It’s always nice to see what others are doing.

We have talked about a cutter X before, that is, a cutter larger than the U.S. Webber class, but smaller than the Offshore Patrol Cutter, that would allow more days cruising at a distance from their home ports than is possible for the Webber class.

Focus Taiwan is reporting (it is their video above) that Taiwan is building ships in this class but in a very different form, for a very different purpose. It measures 60.4 meters in length and 14 meters in width, with a crew of 41. It is fast at 38 knots and has a range of 2,000 nautical miles (this is actually less than the range of the Webber class, but if this is quoted for a higher cruise speed, the range could actually be greater than that of the Webber class at the same lower speed). The great beam is the giveaway, the hull is something unusual.

Janes.com has pictures of the hull out of the water. A separate Janes report lists the armament as eight Hsiung Feng II (HF-2) and eight ramjet-powered Hsiung Feng III (HF-3) anti-ship missiles, an “Otobreda 76 mm gun, four 12.7 mm machine guns for close-range ship defence and a Mk 15 Phalanx close-in weapon system (CIWS) to defeat incoming projectiles and hostile aircraft.”

We have seen a similar hull form before.

This article originally appeared at Chuck Hill’s CG Blog and was cross-posted by permission. 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.