Naval mines and underwater improvised explosive devices (M/UWIED) are a threat to U.S. homeland waters and maritime forces abroad. Because the nation relies on the sea for commerce and defense, the Coast Guard and Navy need to recognize and reorient toward this threat.
The Homeland Security Act of 2002 assigned Ports, Waterways and Coastal Security (PWCS) as the Coast Guard’s primary homeland security mission, and PWCS was designated as the service’s primary focus alongside search and rescue. The PWCS mission encompasses the protection of the U.S. maritime domain and transportation system, protection that includes preventing and disrupting terrorist attacks. The threat presented by terrorist and/or nation-state-sown M/UWIEDs in homeland waters is clear and present, and it falls under the Coast Guard’s mandate. Therefore, the nation must provide the Coast Guard with the resources needed to counter the M/UWIED threat.
Despite the Coast Guard’s range of missions and its role as maritime first responders, the service is underfunded and has been hit hard by sequestration, especially because it has been unable to access Overseas Contingency Operations funds. The Coast Guard’s Fiscal Year 2016 total budget authority was derisory. Without proper funding, discussing expanded capabilities is moot, let alone sustaining the capabilities the service has. The first step is to appropriate and allocate the appropriate funding; the second is to provide the needed hardware and training to detect, classify, localize, identify, and neutralize M/UWIEDs.
Hardware for a Coast Guard mine countermeasures (MCM) capability could be harvested from the Navy’s Littoral Combat Ship MCM mission package, which existing or planned Coast Guard platforms could use in part or as a whole. These platforms could include hulls such as coastal and seagoing buoy tenders, the National Security and Offshore Patrol Cutters, and Coast Guard aircraft, both fixed- and rotary-wing. Training Coast Guardsmen for MCM operations could be concurrent with that of Navy sailors. As shown during the 2014 International Mine Countermeasures Exercise in the Arabian Gulf and the 2015 Field Training Exercise in homeland waters, the U.S. sea services already train and exercise together for such operations. Further combining MCM hardware acquisition and training will reduce duplication, generate economies of scale, encourage innovation, and increase preparation for joint operations.
As the tripwire guarding against a conflict or terrorist incident in U.S. waters, and as a security component for naval bases and forces abroad, the U.S. Coast Guard must be given the expertise and tools to protect commercial and military vessels from the ever-growing threat of M/UWIEDs. At the very least, the service’s vessels must be able to detect such weapons. They should also be able to classify and localize them, and ideally to identify and neutralize them.
Dr. von Bleichert holds degrees in public policy and administration (specializing in homeland security), international relations, and history. He is a college professor, writes fictional military thrillers and fantasy games in his spare time, and is a past contributor to Proceedings.
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