TDB: CIA Asks Coast Guard For Its Cocaine Back

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. - The crew of the Coast Guard Cutter Vigilant offloads 2,046 pounds of cocaine at Station Port Canaveral, Fla., July 2, 2012.  The haul taken from a go fast boat 90 miles south of Punta Beata, Dominican Republic is estimated to have a wholesale value of $26 million.  U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Michael De Nyse.

“We didn’t spend the last forty years perfecting narcotics smuggling so that a couple of wet-behind-the-ears puddle pirates could pull a paper mache submarine out of the water and make off with South America’s new government,” a CIA operative known only as “John” told reporters. “You guys are lucky that we outsourced the crews, or you’d be chupacabra food right now.”

According to the CIA, the final stroke occurred when the Coast Guard managed to ambush a semi-submersible vessel on its way to El Salvador, which was going to either help fund Mara Salvatrucha (more commonly known as MS-13) or Calle 18, depending on which gang they thought would function better as the country’s future government.

Pretty damned funny.  Worth the read.

The Pacific Patrol Boat Program

The Central Pacific has some of the greatest swaths of empty ocean in the world. But in the Western Pacific, there are a great number of islands and archipelagoes, many of them independent nation states. Each of these nations has an EEZ, or Exclusive Economic Zone. While their territorial sovereignty only extends 12 nautical miles from the shore, the EEZ extends 200 nautical miles. Within that zone, these nation states have rights to fishing, drilling and virtually all other economically productive activities. If Tuvula doesn’t want you fishing in their waters, that is their right to deny you. Conversely, Tuvula can, if it wishes, grant you a license to fish in their EEZ, and charge you a tidy fee, adding nicely to their national coffers. The problem is, Tuvula, with an area of about 10 square miles, has an EEZ of about 126,000 square miles to patrol. And with a population of about 10,000, it doesn’t really have the tax base and industry to buy much of a coast guard.

Enter Australia. The concept of the EEZ is a relatively new one, first codified by the United Nations Convention of the Law of the Sea in 1982. Australia has long operated its own fleet of small patrol boats to enforce its EEZ and perform other similar maritime security and presence missions.  Australia also quickly realized that helping the large number of small nations to their north perform similar missions would help Australia perform its own. That is, time not spend dealing with problems to the north could be spent on dealing with local issues.

And so in the late 1980s through most of the 1990s, Australia built a fleet of 22 patrol boats, each just over 100’ in length, and get this… they gave them away, free of charge. Even better, they operate a schoolhouse in Australia to train the sailors from the countries that received these gifts. Australia also set aside money for overhauling and upgrading the boats over time.

The Pacific class patrol boat has been quite a successful design.

File:RAN-IFR 2013 D3 71.JPG

Photographs taken during day 3 of the Royal Australian Navy International Fleet Review 2013. Papua New Guinean patrol boat Dreger underway on Sydney Harbour.

At about 103’, and displacing 162 tons, they have a top speed of about 20 knots, and a steaming range of about 2500 nautical miles at an efficient cruising speed of 12 knots.  They have an endurance of about 10 days.  Not all are armed (many are operated by police forces, as opposed to a navy or coast guard) but they can be fitted for machine guns and even 20mm cannon.

The Pacifics were built to commercial standards, both to keep construction and maintenance costs down, and for ease of maintenance by the relatively poor nations that operate them.

The Pacifics are beginning to reach the end of their expected service lives. And Australia has a bit of a slump in its current shipbuilding plans. And so:

MARCH 6, 2015 — Australia’s Minister of Defence, Kevin Andrews, today, issued a statement announcing the Request for Tender (RFT) for up to 21 replacement – Australian-made – Pacific Patrol Boats under the Pacific Maritime Security Program, Project SEA3036 Phase 1.
Under that program, Australia provides patrol boats to Pacific island countries to enable them take an active part in securing their own extensive Exclusive Economic Zones

The project announced today is seen as a lifeline for Australian shipbuilding. According to the minister, it represents “a significant investment in Australian defense industry,” with the Australian-made patrol boats worth Australian $594 million (about US$ 462 million) with through life sustainment and personnel costs adding an estimated at A$1.38 billion (about US$ 1.07 billion over 30 years.

It would probably be fair to say this is more corporate welfare for Australia than it is self interested charity to its neighbors. Australia’s neighbors will benefit, of course. But in the interim, Australia will also be able to keep its shipbuilding capacity ticking over pending some future major programs for domestic consumption.

The new patrol boats are expected to be somewhat larger than the Pacific class, at about 40 meters (roughly 125 feet) and a bit faster, with a top speed of 25 knots. Endurance should be similar. Again, the ships will be built to commercial standards. They won’t be fitted with armament, but will be fitted for it if the receiving nation wishes to add it.

Coast Guard SAR in action

Here’s a textbook example of the Coast Guard executing a long range Search and Rescue mission to save the life of an aviator in distress.

Yesterday, a Cirrus SR-22 with an auxiliary fuel tank installed was being ferried from California to Hawaii. This is a fairly routine procedure. In this case, however, it appears that a fuel transfer valve malfunctioned, and the pilot quickly realized he would be unable to reach his destination with the remaining available fuel. A quick calculation showed he would run out of fuel about 230 miles short of land.

A Mayday call to the Coast Guard led to the dispatch of a Coastie HC-130 Search and Rescue plane. The Herc served as the on scene coordinator. It located a cruise ship in the vicinity of the anticipated splashdown point, and provided* navigational assistance to both parties.

The SR-22 has an installed parachute recovery system that allows it to deploy its parachute in the event of engine failure or other emergency.




*That’s actually supposition on my part. Call it informed speculation.

Coast Guard MH-65 Makes Precautionary Landing in Target Parking Lot, Kemah, TX

I don’t have any details on it, just came across the video on youtube. Looks like it happened last night.


Update: ’twas a bird strike. And my Coastie helo friend tells me that suspected/possible rotor damage calls for landing as soon as possible.

A U.S. Coast Guard helicopter that struck a bird Thursday night made an emergency landing in the parking lot of a Target in Kemah.

The pilots landed around 8pm in the parking lot of a Target in the 200 block of Marina Bay Drive.

I’m glad the crew is safe.


Matt Udkow- Someone You Should Know

Weird thing about internet friends. You think you know someone… and then you learn something new about them. In this case, it was nice to learn that Matt was not just the kind of man I thought he was, but very much the kind of man one can admire.

Matt is currently an MH-65C helicopter pilot for the United States Coast Guard. But he started his aviation career with the US Navy, flying the big old H-3 Sea King. And so it came to pass that when Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast in 2005, Matt, then stationed at Pensacola, Florida, was flying a logistical support mission from P’cola to Louisiana.

You may recall the scenes of helicopters of all sorts hoisting stranded New Orleans residents from rooftops to safety. Guess what? Matt was one of those aviators engaged in rescuing our fellow Americans.

In Matt’s own words:

I was blessed to serve as the SAR officer and pilot with the NAS Pensacola SAR Unit (renamed Helicopter Support Unit) from 2003 ?to 2005. During this period, my crew and I had the opportunity to assist with the SAR efforts in the New Orleans area following the landfall of Hurricane Katrina. Out first SAR mission was on 30 August (27 persons hoisted), and the second one was conducted on 2 September 2005 (20 persons hoisted). In my opinion, these two missions were the pinnacle of my naval flight career.

Here’s the caption to this picture from Naval Aviation News:

Twenty survivors were happy to be off the flooded ground. The seated man on the right wearing a white t-shirt had a heart-attack on the way to Louis Armstrong Airport. I informed the tower, and we received permission to land in front of a huge line of helos and fly right over the terminal to drop him off first to waiting paramedics. AO3 Danny Smith, the crewman at the door, did a great job hoisting and managing the passengers, plus the three crew members and one photographer in the back. (Photo by Gary Nichols)

Now, being the military is a team sport. We love the image of the gallant individual, but no one man does great things. They all work together. So it is right and proper to share the credit with his crew:

My crew: (left to right): Myself (pilot), AW2 Jake Mclaughlin (rescue swimmer), AW2 Justin Crane (rescue swimmer), AW1 Kevin Maul (crew chief), Lt. Bryce Kammeyer (co-pilot). This was taken after landing after the first day, with two SAR sorties complete and 27 survivors hoisted. All of our crew and the civilian maintainers were very excited and proud of the work we had done.

Matt’s efforts were not without some controversy, however.

PENSACOLA, Fla. — Two Navy helicopter pilots were “counseled” about the importance of supply missions after they rescued 110 New Orleans hurricane victims before returning to base from a cargo delivery, the military said Wednesday.

One pilot was temporarily assigned to a kennel, but that was not punishment, said Patrick Nichols, a civilian public affairs officer at Pensacola Naval Air Station.

“They were not reprimanded,” Nichols said. “They were counseled.”

The pilots, Lt. Matt Udkow and Lt. David Shand, met with Cmdr. Michael Holdener, who praised their Aug. 30 actions but reminded them their orders had been to return to Pensacola after flying water and other supplies to three destinations in Mississippi — the Stennis Space Center, Pascagoula and Gulfport.

Matt made a decision. In this case, the right one. As I mentioned in an earlier post, that’s a skill that junior officers need to learn. Make. A. Decision. Yes, every decision has consequences. But so does failing to make a decision.

47 American citizens today were spared from possible death or injury by Matt’s actions. That’s something a man can hang his hat on.

Motherships and International Cooperation

Every navy faces the challenge of unlimited missions, and limited resources. Even ours. For our allies, the problem is even more acute. The European Union, taken in aggregate, is roughly equal to the US in terms of population and production. But it isn’t a single entity. It’s an extremely loose confederation of independent states. And because of that, the individual navies tend to be quite a bit smaller, both in total hulls, and the size of individual hulls. In spite of the importance of sea trade to Europe’s economic health, fielding navies large enough to secure that trade is virtually impossible, to say nothing of the post-war European tendency to shy away from militarization.

So when threats to sea trade arise, such as piracy off the eastern coast of Africa, no single nation can field a sustainable response. But by fielding international task forces, Europe, with the cooperation of other like minded nations, such as the US, and even China, and of all people, Iran, has managed to suppress the worst of piracy in the waters off the coast of Somalia.

Most Euro navies are frigate navies. And while frigates are quite the handy little warships, let’s face it, it’s a bit much for tracking and deterring pirates in 15m skiffs. Given our lack of frigates, the US Navy tends to support operations there with a Burke class destroyer. Which, let’s face it again, a multi-billion dollar warship is a bit much for taking on cheap boats.

Chuck Hill, of the invaluable Coast Guard Blog, shows a more sensible approach to countering low capability maritime threats, through cooperation of various nations and platforms.

The following was reported by the German Navy blog Marine forum, “8 January, PIRACY–Anti-Piracy Forces: Sweden is preparing for another mission (M-04) in support of EU operation “Atalanta”, this time working jointly with the Netherlands navy … COMBAT BOAT 90 fast interceptor craft, helicopters and 70 personnel to embark on Netherlands Navy dock landing ship JOHAN DE WITT.”

As you may recall, I have advocated using WPCs supported by a mother ship to supplement the larger cutters for distant drug interdiction operations.

Large amphibious ships are almost by definition “motherships.” Designed to operate and support landing craft, it is no great stretch for them to similarly support small patrol craft and other small combatants. The weakness of small craft is their lack of seakeeping. That is, their endurance and their crew’s ability to remain on station is limited. But by pairing them with a larger vessel, the ability of a small flotilla of craft to patrol large areas is greatly enhanced, at a fraction of the cost of maintaining several larger combatants on station.

Further, virtually all major amphibious ships have the ability to support significant helicopter detachments. Said helos are critical for the surveillance part of counter piracy operations, vastly expanding the task force’s field of view, and vectoring the limited number of patrol craft to the most likely targets of interest.

The one real disadvantage of this approach is that amphibious shipping is already in great demand for its primary mission. In our own Navy, we simply don’t have enough “gators” to support the requirements for our Marine Corps.

Some alternatives exist. The Navy’s Advance Floating Support Base (AFSB) would be a particularly good fit for this role. Of course, the limited number and costs of AFSB in the foreseable future means maintaining one on station is not realistic. Other options might include the Joint High Speed Vessel, though they have limited endurance.  My own first suggestion, years ago, was to buy used Platform Support Vessels at dirt cheap prices. The drawback with that platform is the cost of refitting them with command and control facilities, and more critically, the lack of sufficient helicopter facilities.

Chuck’s suggestion of using forward supported WPB and WPC Coast Guard patrol vessels is a good one, though again, the Coast Guard is hard pressed to meet its domestic demand signal for boats.

Other areas that would benefit from such a mothership concept include the Persian Gulf, and the waters near Singapore, where currently the Navy envisions extended deployments of LCS ships.

The US Navy has long operated alongside our partners and allies, and this is one area where such further cooperation is likely to be mutually beneficial.

Coast Guard Sinks Fishing Vessel

Actually, it’s old. Heck, I’ve probably posted some video of this before, just not this one.

After the big tsunami in Japan, an old fishing vessel slated for scrapping broke free of her moorings and spent the next year drifting across the Pacific. Eventually, in April 2012 the USCGC Anacapa was dispatched to sink the derelict hulk. A 110’ Island class cutter, her main battery is a Mk38Mod1 M242 25mm chain gun.


The gun has an effective range of about 3000 meters when mounted on a Bradley. But a Bradley is a fairly stable firing platform when stationary. A bobbing cutter shooting a manually pointed gun has, as you can see, a somewhat shorter effective range.  That’s one reason why the Island class replacement, the 154’ Fast Response Cutter, has the gyro-stabilized, remotely operated Mk38Mod2 mount for the gun.

National Security Cutter

So, back on December 10, the Coast Guard commissioned the fourth of a planned eight of the “Legends” class National Security Cutters. The NSCs are the replacement for the long serving Hamilton class high endurance cutters.

The CGC Hamilton, the newest national security cutter, joined the Coast Guard fleet at a commissioning ceremony held Dec. 6, 2014, in Charleston, South Carolina. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Stephen Lehmann

The development of the NSC was part of the troubled “Deepwater” Coast Guard/industry partnership to recapitalize the Coast Guard’s inventory of ships and aircraft with modern, integrated systems. If the development was sometimes troubled, it was in the end successful in fielding the NSC, the Fast Response Cutter (as a replacement for the 110’ cutters) and the HC-144A patrol plane, as well as new classes of small craft.

At 418’ long, and displacing about 4500 tons, the NSCs have enough endurance to patrol for 60 to 90 days at a time. They have a combined diesel and gas turbine propulsion system, with a pair of diesel engines providing economical cruise power, and a dash capability from the LM2500 turbine for a top speed of about 28 knots.

They’re large enough to carry and support an aviation detachment with up to two helicopters. They have a very respectable sensor suite, and are able to datalink with other Coast Guard assets, Navy networks, and allied forces.

The NSCs were built with a great deal of attention paid to crew comfort. The largest berthing compartments have only six racks. Furthermore, they were designed with excess capacity. The crew consists of 113 officers and men, but the ship has accommodations for up to 148.


The Coast Guard’s virtual tour gives an excellent look inside, and I highly recommend it.

End of an Era- The Coasties retired the HU-25 Guardian

We mentioned the earlier that the Coast Guard is buying Search and Rescue variants of the CN-235 as the HC-144 Ocean Sentry. Filling the niche between the Coast Guard’s helicopters, and its large, long range HC-130s, the HC-144 will replace the HU-25 Guardian. The Guardian, based on the Falcon 20 business jet, has been in service for over 30 years. It was the only jet in widespread use in the Coast Guard.