A "National Fleet" for America

By Vice Admiral Thomas Fargo, U.S. Navy and Rear Admiral Ernest Riutta, U.S. Coast Guard

The former would make efficient dispatch-boats and the latter efficient gunboats, without conflicting in the least with their peace efficiency, if their designs were subject to approval by, or under the control of, the Navy Department. They . . . would contribute to the nation's strength in time of war, if maintained in an efficient condition with that end in view during peace.

In November 1997, then Coast Guard Chief of Staff Vice Admiral James M. Loy called for a "national" response by the three sea services—the Coast Guard, the Navy, and the Marine Corps—to provide the full range of naval and maritime capabilities needed to meet the challenges of the new millennium. "We need to think about coordinating and integrating our force planning activities," Admiral Loy remarked, "so that we can field non-redundant capabilities that are affordable, joint, interoperable, and multimission." Chief of Naval of Operations Admiral Jay Johnson noted in the 1998 edition of his Vision ... Presence ... Power publication that:

The Navy and Marine Corps will increasingly be operating with other components of the Department of Defense and the U.S. Coast Guard-the nation's premier civilian maritime agency and multimission armed service within the Department of Transportation. This will require compatibility of munitions; compatibility of maintenance, tools, spares, and support equipment; and, most importantly, compatibility of C4ISR systems.

There will be continued consolidation of missions and tasks.... This points out the need to prepare continually for possible additional joint capabilities in the future....

Both the Navy and Coast Guard began some years ago to address the issue of force requirements for the 21st century. This included surface ships, fixed-wing aircraft and helicopters, command-and-control systems, and shoreside infrastructures, among other common elements. As we enter the next century, the Navy and Coast Guard must build upon their historically close working relationships to best meet the needs of the future.

Under the concept of a "National Fleet," the Navy and the Coast Guard can take advantage where appropriate of intersecting interests in strategy, doctrine, policy, research and development, acquisition, education and training, and operations. The objective is to ensure a Navy and Coast Guard that can support one another's missions and tasks in discrete roles, from ensuring maritime security against transnational dangers such as drug smuggling and illegal migration, to ensuring interoperability for Coast Guard assets to support the Department of Defense.

Coast Guard Defense Roles and Missions

For much of its history, the Coast Guard has served alongside the U.S. Navy. Indeed, the first "ancillary" duty thrust upon the Revenue Cutter Service came in 1797 when the impending Quasi-War with France caused the cutters to be assigned responsibility for coastal defense and protection of shipping, and then to be placed at the disposal of the Secretary of the Navy the following year. Indeed, in every major conflict in which the United States has been engaged, the Coast Guard has fought alongside the Navy and Marine Corps. In the first days of the uneasy peace at the end of World War II, Secretary of the Navy James V. Forrestal stated that the Coast Guard's "performance of duty has been without exception in keeping with the highest traditions of the naval service." Coast Guard assets supported U.N. forces in Korea; during the Vietnam War, the Coast Guard honed naval skills in operational environments that are germane for littoral warfare.

And so the relationship between the Navy and Coast Guard has evolved, culminating in a 1995 agreement between the Secretaries of Defense and Transportation that assigned four major national defense missions to the Coast Guard in support of U.S. regional commanders-in-chief (CinCs). These missions—maritime intercept operations, deployed port operations/security and defense (DPOSD), peacetime engagement, and environmental defense operations—require specialized assets to execute essential military tasks in support of joint and combined forces.

In recent years, cutters have worked with naval vessels to conduct maritime intercept operations and other peacetime engagement tasks overseas. They have operated with all three numbered Navy fleets, from the Western Pacific and Persian Gulf to the Mediterranean and Baltic Seas. As one illustration of the efficacy of the Coast Guard working together with the Navy, the USCGC Chase (WHEC-718) recently seized four ships attempting to violate U.N. sanctions against Iraq in the Persian Gulf.

Because the same transnational dangers that threaten U.S. interests at home are being felt by America's friends overseas, the Coast Guard's expertise in addressing those security threats and in helping to promote regional cooperation in this hemisphere can be—and is being—used to assist the Navy's traditional role of global engagement through overseas presence. During Operations Support Democracy (November 1993-August 1995) and Uphold Democracy (October 1994-March 1995), Coast Guard deepwater assets and buoy tenders, patrol boats, and port security units supported U.S.-led multinational operations to bolster democratic institutions in Haiti.

Coast Guard cutters capable of integrating with Navy forces in confronting these challenges to our security can benefit both services. The Coast Guard offers unique capabilities that can play an important complementary role in support of the CinCs and their responsibilities in the U.S. national security strategy of engagement and leadership.

Since 1995, the Coast Guard has conducted four cutter deployments overseas; while not capable of providing the robust combat capability needed by naval forces for crisis response contingencies, the cutters do serve as an excellent complement to the low-end forward-presence missions of Navy ships, such as maritime interdiction and other law-enforcement operations. Coast Guard port security units and aviation units have been sent to Turkey, the northern Red Sea, South Korea, and the Persian Gulf. Coast Guard assets also have taken part in numerous exercises with other nations' maritime forces, and have made hundreds of port visits worldwide. During the summer 1997 Foale Eagle exercise, the USCGC Hamilton (WHEC-715) operated with the USS Independence (CV-72) Battle Group in the Western Pacific.

Looking ahead, the United States faces far different threats than those experienced during the 45-year Cold War. The U.S. armed forces must remain capable of meeting the operational requirements of fighting and winning two simultaneous major theater wars. At the same time, small-scale contingencies of varying size and intensity demand increasingly effective and flexible U.S. forces that can be forward deployed and tailored to support peacetime diplomacy and crisis-response operations in key world regions, including noncombatant operations other than war (OOTW).

As local and regional crises become more challenging with the proliferation of sophisticated weapons to nations and subnational groups intent on challenging the United States and its allies, naval forces that are present in theater and shaped for combat provide a credible deterrent and timely crisis response capability. The demand for high-profile, visible forward presence by U.S. naval forces capable of providing the full range of naval capabilities will remain high. But the Coast Guard's proficiency at supporting lower-end missions during peacetime provides the opportunity to augment U.S. maritime power on a daily basis while also providing the foundation for the Coast Guard's important role in support of the Navy in the event of a major theater war. Both services—and our nation—benefit by ensuring that our maritime resources are used to their maximum advantage in supporting one another.

More Frigates!

The insight of Admiral Lord Nelson, who complained bitterly to his captains after his victory over the French at the Battle of the Nile, provides good counsel. Nelson declared to his commanders, "If I died right now, the surgeon would see carved onto my heart ‘More Frigates!"' He spoke for all naval commanders—past, present, and future—who know that quantity has a quality all its own.

Today, the Navy has planned a steady recapitalization of its forces, and the Coast Guard is on the threshold of a major recapitalization of its own to meet tomorrow's challenges. The Navy is committed to sustaining a force structure of no less than 300 sophisticated, multimission warships that must be capable of fighting and winning in two simultaneous major theater wars, meeting contingency response requirements, and providing a peacetime presence overseas that supports U.S. national security. These forces include as a minimum:

  • 12 aircraft carrier battle groups (CVBGs)
  • 12 amphibious ready groups (ARGs)
  • 50 nuclear-powered attack submarines (SSNs)
  • 14 nuclear-powered strategic ballistic missile submarines (SSBNs)
  • 1116 surface warships—112 in the active fleet and 4 in the Naval Reserve Force

To prevail in major theater war, these ships will be capable of providing theater ballistic missile defense, strike air power, and massed, precision land-attack weapons for direct support of land campaigns. These same capabilities also are required to respond credibly to a crisis or threat to U.S. interests in this turbulent peace, including small-scale operations such as maritime interdiction and humanitarian response. These warships therefore must be able to conduct the full array of responses required for smaller-scale contingency operations and major theater war as well as the multitude of missions conducted during peacetime forward deployments.

To further enhance this capability in its surface fleet, the Navy is planning to commission the lead unit of its next generation of surface combatants, the DD-21, in 2009. This multimission warship will be capable of supporting both multidimensional naval and ". . . joint-service requirements in littoral regions.... With its state-of-the-art technologies, DD-21 will be able to operate seamlessly with other naval forces, as well as U.S. ground and landbased air forces.... Moreover, DD-21 will use advanced 'stealth' features to make these warships less detectable to potential adversaries and more survivable to enemy attack."

But the Coast Guard must remain capable of executing its combat responsibilities during a major war when operating alongside such a Navy vessel. Moreover, we must take advantage of the interoperability such a Coast Guard capability can provide naval forces in peacetime. Coast Guard cutters must be optimized for maritime interception, law-enforcement, migrant interdictions, peacetime engagement, and environmental protection missions.

Within the next 12 years, two classes of the Coast Guard's major cutters—the 12 Hamilton (WHEC-378)-class high-endurance cutters and the 16 Reliance (WMEC615)-class medium-endurance cutters, which together make up most of the Coast Guard's fleet of major cutters—almost simultaneously reach the ends of their useful service lives. The replacement platforms must be capable of performing law enforcement and other typical Coast Guard missions and must have assured interoperability with naval forces when it must execute its wartime or other deployed missions. The Coast Guard is exploring ways to replace its aging "deepwater capability," deepwater meaning any operation—humanitarian, civilian, or military—conducted 50 miles or more from the coast.

The Coast Guard's Integrated Deepwater Capability Replacement System envisions a "system-of-systems" approach to recapitalizing the Coast Guard for the next 25 if not more years. The Coast Guard—in close coordination with the Navy—will address an integrated package of surface and airborne platforms and systems as well as the command-and-control, communications, and information technologies and systems needed to meet and adapt to future mission requirements and challenges. Because of the growing sophistication of naval weapon systems and threats to maritime forces, the Coast Guard's deepwater assets will not perform "high-end" warfighting missions. But the Coast Guard must remain capable of helping in peacetime to support humanitarian operations, nation-building, peacekeeping, law enforcement, and force protection, it also must remain capable of fulfilling combat roles in the event of small-scale contingencies or a major theater war. In fact, the Chief of Naval Operations, in his 21 October 1997 letter to the Coast Guard Commandant, underscored that the Navy's "policy has been and will continue to be to ensure the Coast Guard is prepared to carry out assigned naval warfare tasks."

Most fundamentally, the President and the Unified CinCs require a full range of capabilities to meet tomorrow's maritime challenges. In this regard, the Coast Guard must be seen as an at-sea, operating "force-in-being," trained and capable for many important OOTW tasks, small-scale contingency operations, and littoral warfare tasks in major theater war that complement Navy vessels.

At the same time, a Navy that remains interoperable with the Coast Guard can bring a discrete number of more capable systems in support of primary Coast Guard missions such as the counter-drug war being fought in the Caribbean and the Pacific. Together, these fully interoperable systems are much more effective at detecting and monitoring the traffickers as the services work to confront this transnational danger to our national security.

In other mission areas, Navy assistance has proven similarly critical to the success of traditional Coast Guard missions. In the 1992-94 mass migrations from Haiti and Cuba, Navy ships were essential in helping the Coast Guard rescue the tens of thousands of migrants who attempted to migrate to the United States. Navy ships also played major roles in the Exxon Valdez oil spill clean-up and the TWA Flight 800 recovery effort, again showing the importance of interoperability between the services.

A National Fleet

In September 1998, Chief of Naval Operations Johnson and Commandant Loy signed the National Fleet Policy Statement to ensure that as the Coast Guard and Navy moved to recapitalize their forces in the 21st century, they synchronized planning, training, and procurement to provide the highest level of maritime capability for the nation's investment. These operational needs will shape current and future designs and operational concepts for multimission naval surface warships and small, general purpose, shallow-draft cutters that mutually can support the nation's naval and maritime roles, missions, functions, and tasks that will be required of both the Coast Guard and the Navy. As Admiral Loy described in a 31 July 1998 letter to Admiral Johnson, "I envision a National Fleet . . . of surface combatants and major cutters that would be affordable, interoperable, complementary, and balanced with minimum overlaps in their capabilities."

Such a fleet would comprise highly capable multimission Navy surface combatants outfitted for the full range of naval operations. The Coast Guard's maritime security cutter—one element of the ongoing Deepwater Project—would be designed for peacetime and crisis-response Coast Guard missions. But this cutter also must complement its Navy counterparts in its assigned small-scale conflict and major theater war tasks, filling the requirement for a small, general-purpose warship. Although not its primary purpose, this cutter could provide an attractive alternative for foreign military sales, thus helping the U.S. shipbuilding base while potentially assisting future interoperability efforts with allies and friends.

The Navy and Coast Guard continue to examine closely the "shared purpose and common effort" focused on tailored operational integration of the two services' multimission surface platforms, with the goal of meeting the entire range of U.S. maritime requirements for the 21st century. Such a partnership mandates that the Navy and Coast Guard work together to ensure a National Fleet of multimission Navy surface warships and major Coast Guard cutters to maximize their operational effectiveness across all naval and maritime missions. Furthermore, the Navy and Coast Guard should coordinate surface warship and cutter planning, information systems integration, research and development, acquisition, and life-cycle support and embrace joint concepts.

Clearly, such a joint endeavor will have broad implications for both the Coast Guard and the Navy. The likely benefits to such a coordinated and integrated approach include meeting operational support and upgrade requirements more efficiently and economically; coordinated acquisition strategies; standardized training and cross-training in service-specific operational specialties; improved operational planning; integrated doctrinal and tactical development; and much enhanced force and unit interoperability. These improvements will allow us to stretch budget dollars to maximize operational effectiveness.

The Navy and Coast Guard always have worked well together, and National Fleet turns tradition into policy, greatly strengthening the relationship. A key element in the renaissance in this nation's sea services will be the revolution in thinking about the shared purpose, operational integration, and common effort between the Navy and the Coast Guard that the National Fleet concept entails. The Navy-Coast Guard collective task is to build fully interoperable, multimission, naval and maritime forces for tomorrow's challenges. To do that, the Navy and Coast Guard must work together even more closely if they are to continue to provide the best maritime capabilities in the world at the best price for the U.S. citizen.

Vice Admiral Fargo is the Deputy Chief of Naval Operations for Plans, Policy, and Operations (N3/N5), Office of the Chief of Naval Operations. Rear Admiral Riutta is the Assistant Commandant for Operations (G-O), Headquarters, U.S. Coast Guard. Dr. Scott C. Truver, Mr. Norman Polmar, and Mr. David Nelson of the Center for Security Strategies and Operations, TECHMATICS, contributed to this article.



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