You definitely didn’t ask for it, but we’ve got it. Starting Monday is the Air Sea Battle Battle, or Air Sea Battle (ASB) Week for the less combative. If you’re unaware of what ASB is, good… because that’s half of the debate. Suffice as it is to say, LCDR BJ Armstrong can give you some opening helpful tips through his article at War on the Rocks, “Air-Sea Battle: Do the Footnotes Matter?”.
Suffice as it is to say, lots of talk about escalation, China, jointness, and the budget.
Since its formation in 2013 by the consolidation of four previously independent agencies into a single entity (notably excluding the SAR agency), the Chinese Coast Guard has been experiencing phenomenal growth and has become China’s instrument of choice in its “small stick diplomacy” push to claim most of both the South China Sea and the East China Sea.
The US Coast Guard’s largest patrol cutters are the 418 foot, 4,500 ton full load Bertholf Class National Security Cutters. The illustration that accompanies the story of the four new 5,000 ton cutters shows a ship, in many ways similar to the National Security Cutter. It appears there is a medium caliber gun on the bow. (This would be a significant but not unexpected change for the Chinese Coast Guard.) There is a frame over what appears to be a stern ramp not unlike that on the NSC. The hull shape also appears similar to the NSC.
The “10,000 ton” cutter is likely to look similar to the Japanese Coast Guard’s two 492 foot, 9,350 full load, Shikishima class high endurance helicopter carrying cutters seen in the illustration above, but they may actually be much larger. Comparing their new ship to the Japanese cutters, the displacement of the Japanese ships was quoted as 6,500 tons, their light displacement. If the 10,000 tons quoted for the Chinese cutter is also light displacement, it could approach 15,000 tons full load. As reported here the new Chinese OPV will have a 76mm gun, two 30mm guns, facilities to support two Z-8 helicopters, and a top speed of 25 knots.
The size of the helicopters is notable. The Z-8 is a large, three engine, 13,000 kg helicopter based on the Aérospatiale SA 321 Super Frelon. The transport version of this helicopter can transport 38 fully equipped troops. The same airframe is also used for SAR, ASW, and vertical replenishment.
Undoubtedly the new vessels tonnage would give it an advantage in any sort of “shoving match” with vessels of other coast guards, but why so large?
The original justification for the Japanese cutters was to escort plutonium shipments between Japan and Europe, but the second cutter was built long after that operation was suspended, so clearly the Japanese saw a different justification for the second ship of the class.
Even so the Chinese ship may prove larger still. Other than prestige, why so large? China’s EEZ is small (877,019 sq km) compared to that of the US (11,351,000 sq km) or even Japan (4,479,358 sq km). Even adding the EEZ of Taiwan and other areas claimed by China, but disputed by others (3,000,000 sq km), the total is only about 3,877,019 sq km, and patrolling it does not require the long transits involved in patrolling the US or even the Japanese EEZ.
10,000 tons is about the size of a WWII attack transport, and with its potential to embark two large helicopters, China’s new large cutter could certainly exceeds the capability of WWII destroyer and destroyer escort based fast transports (APD). Using its helicopters and boats it could quickly land at least an infantry company, as could many of the smaller cutters. Chinese Coast Guard ships are already a common sight throughout the contested areas of the South China and East China Seas. Will Asia wake up some morning to learn there have been Chinese garrisons landed throughout the contested areas, by the now all too familiar Chinese Coast Guard Cutters.
Chuck Hill blogs at http://chuckhillscgblog.net/. He 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.
The Russians are not ready to host the Olympic Games. Everything from the hotel roofs to the perimeter security leaks like a sieve. 10,000 American Citizens are going to be in town for the games and will need to get out quickly in the event of a terrorist attack or public health emergency.
We are one day from the Opening Ceremonies of the 22nd Winter Olympics and the early reporting from Sochi is damning: active kinetic security operations against Chechen forces are underway, wanted posters of known terrorists litter public places and the tap water has been deemed unsafe to bathe with, let alone drink. In response to the potential threat against Americans visiting Sochi for the games—and recognizing the constraints of warship tonnage permitted to cross the Turkish Straits by the Montreux Convention—the United States’ European Command (EUCOM) has deployed the 6th Fleet Flag Ship, USS Mt. Whitney (LCC-20) and the guided missile frigate, USS Taylor (FFG-50) to the Black Sea. While bolstering the regional command and control (C2) / multi-agency liaison capability, the deployment of these two ships does little to provide additional sources of emergency egress to American citizens in Sochi due to their limited passenger capacity, small flight decks and absence of well-decks. There is, however, a way to meet both operational requirements and the requirements set forth in the Montreux Convention: THINK MONEYBALL
Montreux Convention Primer
“The Montreux [Switzerland] Convention Regarding the Regime of the Straits” was a 1936 agreement (subsequently amended) giving Turkey sovereign control of the Bosporus Straits and Dardanelles—the waterway passages from the Mediterranean Sea (Aegean Sea) to the Black Sea. The agreement was negotiated by Australia, Bulgaria, France, Germany, Greece, Japan, the USSR, the UK, Turkey, and Yugoslavia as a strictly enforced body of regulations for vessel transits of the straits replacing the previously unrestricted navigation protocol under the 1923 League of Nations Treaty of Lausanne. The convention places limitations on the number, types and tonnage of warships, overall tonnage of merchants / warships permitted to cross into the Black Sea by non-Black Sea bordering countries both individually and as a whole at any one time.
The Sabermetrics of Non-Combatant Evacuation Operations (NEO)
Distilled to its essence, NEO is concerned with the removal of civilians from an at-risk location and transporting them somewhere more secure as expeditiously and safely as possible. In order to achieve the speed and safety requirements, naval task forces engaged in NEO should have the following capabilities:
– Surge-ready command and control spaces sufficient to plan and execute a joint, multi-agency (potentially multi-lateral), multi-axis NEO
– A flight deck capable of landing CH-53s, MV-22s, CH-47s, MH-60s – a variety of versatile helos
– A well deck capable of embarking Landing Craft Air Cushion (LCAC) / Landing Craft Utility (LCU)
– A fleet surgical team with operating rooms, triage, and isolation
– Overflow berthing / open spaces to erect large numbers of cots
– Messing and sanitary capacity for hundreds of evacuees
– The ability to embark Naval Expeditionary Combat Command / special warfare personnel for the conduct of security operations and / or special operations
Moneyball: Deploying the Right Ships for Sochi (and Building Smarter Task Forces for the Future)
Turkey has been an extremely unreliable partner over the past eleven years. As demonstrated by their reneging on a commitment to allow the US Army’s 4th Infantry Division to attack Iraq in 2003 as well as their preventing the USNS Comfort from entering the Straits to deliver Georgia humanitarian aid during the South Ossetia War with Russia in 2008, the United States should not count on Turkey to waive Montreux Convention limitations on tonnage and numbers of warships in the event of an evacuation contingency. The 6th Fleet Commander (COMSIXTHFLT) needs to plan with forces on station in the Black Sea without an expectation of reinforcements.
Whereas “Moneyball” is usually tied to limitations of budget, in this case it is tied to limitations of tonnage and numbers of ships. COMSIXTHFLT needs to squeeze the maximum NEO sabermetrics into his Sochi Task Force. To that end, I have highlighted the LCS-1, LPD-17, JHSV-1 and MLP-1 as ideal candidates for a Sochi NEO. While the LCC-19 is an ideal C2 platform for coordinating a multi-lateral, multi-agency, Joint NEO—it lacks a sufficient flight deck / well deck to make a large contribution to the transport of evacuees. Single mission ships went out of vogue generations ago, and make even less sense for a Sochi NEO—especially when you consider that command / liaison elements can embark an LPD-17, JHSV-1 or MLP-1 to exercise C2 while the respective ships are actively participating in LCAC / helicopter transport of evacuees.
A good NEO plan is all about options of egress (i.e. fleeing in an orderly fashion). Sochi International Airport features only two runways and is highly susceptible to uncooperative wind patterns that routinely halt flight operations. In the event that the 2014 Winter Olympics turns into “Escape from Sochi,” the 6th Fleet ships on station in the Black Sea will need to exercise an organic NEO capability beyond C2 and liaison. Going forward, NEO Task Forces should organize and plan around a sabermetric list of requirements that is agnostic to hull types and otherwise irrelevant traditional warfighting mission sets.
Nicolas di Leonardo is a member of the Expeditionary Warfare Division on the Chief of Naval Operations Staff, as well as a graduate student of the Naval War College. The opinions expressed here within are solely his, and do not necessarily reflect the official positions of the Expeditionary Warfare Division or the Naval War College.