Can We Protect Our Coasts?

By Commander Timothy R. Dring, U.S. Naval Reserve

The overall responsibility for the conduct of such missions belongs to a naval coastal warfare commander (NCWC) who, under a typical joint force command-and-control structure, probably reports directly to the naval component commander (NCC) and, if operational needs dictate, has an indirect reporting responsibility to the rear area commander (i.e., if separate from the joint forces commander). Depending on mission requirements, the NCWC has a subordinate coastal sea-control commander (CSCC) and one or more subordinate harbor defense commanders (HDCs—ideally, one per harbor to be protected). In addition, there can also be a search-and-rescue commander, mine countermeasures commander, and explosive ordnance disposal/salvage forces commander.

While there has been little doctrinal or operational refinement of either the NCWC or CSCC roles and functions, the role and responsibility of the HDC have been exercised fairly extensively and practiced in real-world operations. Notionally, the harbor defense command consists of a deployed command, control, communications, and intelligence (C3I) staff from a Navy and Coast Guard composite naval coastal warfare unit (CNCWU); a mobile inshore undersea warfare unit (MIUWU) for surveillance and tracking; and either a Coast Guard port security unit (PSU) or Navy inshore boat unit (IBU) equipped with small craft for patrol and interdiction duties. Because of a CNCWU's extremely limited logistics support infrastructure and unit security capabilities, logistics support and perimeter security units (e.g., Army military police or Marine fleet antiterrorism security team detachments) typically are included. In order to conduct some of the more specialized missions, the force structure also includes mine countermeasures, explosive ordnance disposal, and mobile diving and salvage units, as well as assets capable of offshore operations such as Coast Guard cutters and/or 110-foot patrol boats (WPBs), or Navy frigates and/or Cyclone-class patrol craft. 10

As a force component, a mobile inshore undersea warfare unit (MIUWU) provides critical surveillance, command, control, and communications capabilities. With their current outfit of the 8-foot by 20-foot TSQ-108A radar/sonar surveillance center van, a surface-search radar, a sonobuoy receiver/analyzer (for use primarily with SSQ-41 low-frequency acquisition and ranging or SSQ-53 direction low-frequency analysis and ranging sonobuoys), and infrared night-vision devices, these units provide effective inshore surface and subsurface surveillance coverage within a typical area of operations. MIUWUs also provide important additional record message and voice communications capabilities. 11 MIUWUs, however, have a very limited capability to establish and maintain perimeter security. Planned equipment upgrades in the near future—including a new radar, acoustic detection, and radio and satellite communications suite—will significantly improve surveillance, as well as command, control, and communications capabilities. 12

As another component, Coast Guard port security units (PSUs) and Navy inshore boat units (IBUs) provide critical patrol vessel assets for maritime surveillance and interdiction, routinely working with MIUWUs, which provide radar, sonobuoy, and visual contact information. 13 PSUs currently operate 22-foot Raider and 27-foot Guardian open-cockpit patrol boats (usually six boats per unit, with up to three boats in an underway status and one boat in ready-standby status), while IBUs are equipped with 27- to 35-foot enclosed cockpit boats (usually two boats per unit), all of which are trailerable, equipped with surface-search radars and armed with crewserved automatic weapons such as .50-caliber and/or M-60 machine guns. Current sea-state limitations for PSU boats are maximum seas of two feet for full capabilities and maximum seas of eight feet for safe operation. Larger craft such as Coast Guard or Navy patrol boats usually are required for offshore patrol and interdiction operations. 14

Under typical conditions, the harbor defense commander maintains operational control of all assigned forces—for example, the MIUWU and PSU/IBU—and delegate tactical control, for example, of patrol craft to the MIUWU for surveillance and interdiction operations. This arrangement is optimal because of the MIUWU's capability to establish and maintain a real-time tactical plot and effectively vector patrol craft assets as needed. The operations center then maintains an overall geographic plot, commanding principally by negation (similar to the familiar naval composite warfare commander's role). Unlike the MIUWU, however, which focuses on the immediate waterside tactical picture, the HDC is responsible for overall logistics and shore-side security, as well as for establishing and maintaining the external links to ensure proper coordination of harbor-defense operations with other rear-area activities.

In-theater logistical support to naval coastal warfare units is critical, because they are not self-sustaining—typically deploying with only enough food for a few days of operations until field messing can be established or obtained. 15 Items such as vehicles, portable generators, potable water, bathing/sanitary facilities, and medical services are critical to effective HDC establishment and operations. For example, CNCWUs are not equipped with vehicles or portable electrical generators. In addition, units that have organic patrol craft or vehicles usually do not deploy with supplies of fuel or automatic weapons ammunition.

Room for Improvement

One aspect of NCW operations that has received insufficient attention in doctrine and practice is the transition from a hostile or high-threat environment to the intended low-threat environment with the appropriate operational and tactical hand-off between forces. For instance, while the establishment of NCW command, control, and operations is fairly straightforward in a low-threat, permissive, rear-area environment, it is not at all clear how this would occur in an area with a transition from "hot" war operations to those of a rear area. Certainly, there would be a naval coastal warfare initial response team that would establish preliminary rear-area operations, but many of the already in-theater sea, ground, and air assets probably would remain under at least the operational, if not tactical, control of the combat commander, and therefore might not be available for coastal warfare tasking. Similarly, if rear-area NCW forces were compelled to evacuate because of intensified threat and/or hostilities, it is not clear how such an operation would be orchestrated.

Another aspect that needs development includes the role, responsibilities, and required capabilities of the naval coastal warfare commander and the coastal sea control commander. While it is assumed that many of their responsibilities and activities would mirror those of a harbor defense commander but on a broader scale with additional assets, this has not been exercised or practiced adequately, particularly in the context of a complete joint force structure. 16 For example, to optimize C3, should the NCWC be ashore or afloat, and located with the NCC or established separately? How should the NCWC interface with elements of the naval component as well as joint forces commands? How would the NCWC establish and maintain a fused tactical picture, based on inputs from both the CSCC and the various harbor defense commands? There is a great deal to be gained at least by establishing a command liaison to the NCC so that issues and needs are addressed. Equipping the naval coastal warfare units with the Joint Maritime Command Information System (formerly Navy Tactical Command System-Afloat—JOTS II) and including them on the appropriate exchange net (e.g., OTCIXS) will address this to some degree. 17

Given that mine countermeasures, explosive ordnance disposal, and diving/salvage operations are likely to take place within the NCWC's area of responsibility, it makes a great deal of sense to establish their operational control under the NCWC. However, given the scarcity of such resources and their critical nature, it is unclear in a real-world scenario which naval force commander actually would be given operational and/or tactical control of such critical assets. At the very least, naval coastal warfare forces need to maintain communications with such force elements and coordinate operations. In addition—given that MCM/EOD/salvage forces have limited self-defense capabilities—it is likely that NCW assets would be tasked with their escort and security.

In past joint exercises, naval coastal warfare commands have not been compelled to obtain air assets through a joint forces commander such as a joint force air component commander or a helicopter element coordinator. Usually, a harbor defense commander has been able to rely upon the good services of a locally available Navy or Coast Guard helicopter or patrol aircraft. Such services are unlikely to be readily available in a typical theater of operation, where fixed- and rotary-wing air assets belong to a joint force commander or coordinator. As a result, NCW personnel must know how to work with an air tasking order to determine mission-assigned sortie information.

NCW communications usually have been reasonably adequate and effective within a localized operating area. However, area communications effectiveness can suffer from problems with radio shadow zones created by local geography and a lack of reliable and secure handheld voice communications between waterside and shore-side perimeter security forces scattered over a large area. In addition, NCW communication architecture and equipment are insufficiently standardized, and limitations in the current communications suite likely will preclude the full-circuit coverage that is required in a real-world, joint-force operational theater. For example, this would force the HDC and MIUWU to split the guard requirements for certain circuits. What has yet to be developed and exercised is full communications connectivity with external organizations such as various theater, joint-force, and component commands and units outside the immediate NCW force structure, particularly over such circuits as satellite narrowband secure voice. Augmentation of existing HDC communications using dedicated, portable communications suites 18 could help alleviate this situation.

Until now, NCW waterside operations have relied primarily on the PSU Raider and Guardian boats for patrol and interdiction. Although these craft have provided yeoman service under a variety of conditions, they are by no means the best craft for such operations. Significant sea-state limitations essentially restrict their safe use to harbor-patrol duties inside the breakwater during periods of calm to moderate weather, and gun mounts are not stabilized to permit accurate and effective firing in any sort of seaway. Boat crews could be vulnerable to enemy automatic weapons or shoulder-fired antitank/ antiair rocket fire because of the boats' non-hardened construction. Although the boat types used by an IBU are larger and provide better shelter for the crew against the weather, they also suffer from sea-state and enemy-threat limitations. What really is needed in addition to these boats is a better-protected patrol craft for inshore operations in higher sea-state and threat conditions. Until then, Coast Guard WPBs or Navy PC assets will be an absolute necessity for offshore patrol.

Although MIUWUs are proficient at establishing shore-monitored sonobuoy fields for passive subsurface surveillance, the introduction of more sophisticated sensors such as the new AN/SSQ-58A buoy necessitates further refinement of employment tactics, including integration of this buoy array into the naval component commander's overall antisubmarine warfare surveillance plan.19 The required passive acoustic detection analysis for the new array is likely to place greater demands on in-theater environmental prediction support. For many potential near-shore (i.e., inside the continental shelf) areas of operation, historical oceanographic data upon which reliable acoustic predictions could be based are seriously lacking, and prediction models optimized for calculations of performance in open ocean areas tend to be inadequate for inshore areas. The availability of sufficient acoustic intelligence information on the potential threat platforms of developing nations to a deployed MIUWU is also an issue

To be effective, NCW forces require complete and timely intelligence on such issues as the terrorist sabotage threat, high-interest and neutral merchant vessel traffic, and host-nation-specific information. Although assigned CNCWU intelligence personnel diligently try to obtain such information, they have tended (usually through no fault of their own) to be at the bottom of the food chain in terms of adequate and timely distribution of intelligence information from external sources. Historically, there also has been a problem with inadequate measures for the security of special intelligence information and materiel under field conditions.

Rules of engagement (ROE) and status of forces agreements also can be potential problem areas. Although ostensibly operating in a rear area where the threat—by definition—is minimal, NCW forces must have the authority to execute both preemptive and reactive waterside and landside security operations that are likely to include the ability to use deadly force if warranted. One distinct advantage is the inclusion of U.S. Coast Guard personnel who, as a result of their normal federal maritime law-enforcement duties and responsibilities, have extensive experience in port safety and security operations. Although U.S. statutory and regulatory authority for such domestic Coast Guard operations likely would not extend to expeditionary scenarios in a foreign host nation, their U.S. domestic experience nonetheless better equips these Coast Guard NCW personnel to perform the expeditionary mission consistent with permitted ROE.

Although U.S. NCW forces have been contingency planning and exercising with their Canadian counterparts for some years, full interoperability with NATO partners remains problematic. For example, although U.S. NCW forces seem capable of handling U.S. national ROE issues effectively, operating under NATO rules continues to be a challenge. In addition, current NCW doctrine and procedures—as likely to be executed by a joint U.S./NATO force—are not addressed adequately by any of the Allied tactical or procedural publications (e.g., APP-1, ATP1C, and APP-7) with which many unit reservists are not familiar, in any event.

Ways to Develop

The following recommendations should be explored toward the goal of overall improvement of operational and tactical capabilities:

  • Naval coastal warfare and coastal sea control commander roles and responsibilities should be developed further, both in procedural documentation and in practice, including integration of assets and operations with other joint force and naval components. This information should also find its way into doctrine and tactics for the naval component commanders.
  • The ultimate communications architecture and equipment outlay should provide full connectivity and coverage, not only within the immediate force structure, but also with external commands such as the joint force and naval component commands, the joint rear area coordinator, the joint rear tactical operations center, and in-theater sea/air units.
  • Naval coastal warfare forces need to establish and maintain a tactical picture fused with that maintained by the naval component commander, not only of local contacts of interest within the immediate area, but also of those outside the area that may transit the area of operations (e.g., neutral and protected merchant shipping, as well as subsurface contacts).
  • Requesting sorties of supportive fixed- and rotary-wing aircraft from the appropriate joint forces commander, as well as their proper tactical employment, needs to be exercised routinely.
  • Tailored intelligence support from as many in-theater sources as possible must be available on at least a near real-time basis to allow proper responses to elevations in local threat conditions. Units must have the appropriate security measures in place to protect highly classified information.
  • Given the sea-state limitations of the current inventory of patrol craft, more seaworthy vessels for offshore patrol and interdiction are needed. Consideration should also be given to hardening craft and vessels to provide better protection against hostile fire. Interoperability with NATO, including communications and rules of engagement, requires further doctrinal development and testing.
  • Once the table of equipment has been finalized for naval coastal warfare units, it should be incorporated immediately into the joint operational planning and execution system to ensure appropriate deployment and logistical support. This should include adequate allowances of vehicles, field messing equipment, generators, and firefighting equipment.

Naval coastal warfare has evolved significantly. The current force structure provides a theater commander with unique expeditionary littoral warfare capabilities. Further refinements will only help to make NCW forces even more capable partners in joint expeditionary warfare.

1Formerly NWP-39A.

2 Naval Coastal Warfare Standard Operating Procedures, issued recently, do not address operations and tactics in detail.

3 For example, the NWP 3-21.X series for antisubmarine warfare operations, NWP 3-15.X series for mine countermeasures operations, and NWP 3-20.X series for surface warfare.

4 For example, the Mobile Inshore Undersea Warfare program has its own SOP.

5 For example, protection of off-loading maritime prepositioning ships.

6 This does not include combat search and rescue.

7 Subject to asset availability, because such capabilities are not organic to notional NCW units.

8 Subject to the availability of Coast Guard buoy tenders or mobile aids-to-navigation teams.

9 Subject to the availability of Navy mobile diving and salvage units or appropriate Coast Guard units, because such capabilities are not organic to NCW units.

10 Unless Coast Guard cutters or Navy frigates/destroyers with embarked helicopters are tasked with supporting NCW operations, or unless Coast Guard fixed-wing air assets are within range of the area of operations, expeditionary NCW forces typically have no organic air assets.

11 NWP 3-10.3, formerly NWP-40, "Inshore Undersea Warfare," provides basic information on MIUWU doctrine and operational procedures.

12 To include two mobile sensor platforms (HMMWVs with radar and thermal/video imagers linked to the TSQ-108A van by microwave relay); an upgraded SQR-17A (V)3 sonobuoy processor; a passive acoustic array based on the SSQ-58A MIUWU buoy for longer-range detection; an ALR-66(V) ESM receiver; an upgraded Furuno/CEA radar; a graphic data fusion system tactical display computer and digitized map; and a portable sensor platform for antennae deployment. Also under consideration is an active/passive acoustic barrier for close-in detection and tracking.

13 The best discussion of PSU doctrine and operational procedures available can be found in the Coast Guard Commandant Instruction M3501.53, "Port Security Unit (PSU) Operational Doctrine" (established 14 November 1994). IBU operational doctrine has yet to be promulgated formally in a reference publication such as an NWP.

14 How such offshore-capable patrol vessel assets would be deployed to a distant theater of operations (for example, would WPBs/PCs have to be transported by heavy-lift ships) has not usually been adequately addressed in past operations. Like the Avenger-class MCM vessels, such craft would have to be transported rather than be allowed to proceed on their own to reduce wear and tear. Coast Guard WPBs were used successfully in Haiti for NCW purposes, but proximity to continental United States-based Coast Guard facilities made deployment straightforward and was not representative of potential operations in other theaters.

15 The HDC is intended to operate under field messing and berthing conditions. Although the CNCWUs are becoming proficient at operating under such conditions, both the MIUWUs and (to a slightly lesser extent) the PSUs/IBUs have been trained and equipped for such operations for some time.

16 These roles, if "played" at all in past exercises, did not involve full staffing and ship/air resource allocation to the NCWC/CSCC, nor was the full range of required C'1 capabilities established or tested.

17 Unless Link-equipped ships or aircraft tasked with supporting NCW operations are available, NCW units typically have no direct input into or out of Link-1I or 16.

18 Planned MIUWU communications upgrades, to include JMCIS and improved secure voice and satellite communications capabilities, will address many of the current deficiencies.

19 Ideally, contact information derived from MIUWU surveillance should be merged with that from the Advanced Deployable System (under development). Also, a notional HDC does not have any organic assets capable of conducting ASW prosecution and attack operations.

Commander Dring is a qualified surface warfare and coastal/harbor defense officer who served on active duty for three years on board the USS Francis Hammond (FF-1067). Since 1978, as a drilling reservist, he has been assigned to operations, plans, and training billets.  In civilian life, he is an associate director of regulatory affairs with a major pharmaceutical company.



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