Connectivity and Crafting a National Fleet: Enhancing Synergy Between the USCG and the USN


The United States Coast Guard and Navy are pursuing the creation of a national fleet to craft a common approach and develop interoperable capabilities to provide for maritime security. If this were to become a reality, what would be required and what would be entailed to make it work?

The crafting of the national fleet is not a static concept, nor just building and maintaining hardware and software. Rather, it is a dynamic process of creating capabilities and capacities for a common maritime security policy and approach illustrated in the figure below.

Figure 1: The National Fleet is a Process of Capacity Building
Figure 1: The National Fleet is a Process of Capacity Building

By blending physical assets through connectivity tools and networks, and coupling them with doctrine and a maritime security Concept of Operations (CONOPS), national fleet capabilities emerge. Fashioning those capabilities and combining them with commercial and global maritime state partnerships enhance the capability of the national fleet. It is a dynamic and fluid process whereby the USCG and the USN learn to work together in the global maritime commons to create greater maritime security capability through global alliances and partnerships.

It is an inherently international effort, which is grounded in more effective domestic collaboration and cooperation. As such, the national fleet will always be a work in progress, the effectiveness of which is measured by the ability to generate greater capacity to provide for global maritime security.

The USCG and USN: Shaping Mission Sets

Shaping approaches to share the core competencies of the two services is a key consideration in crafting the national fleet. For the national fleet to be more than a bumper sticker, crafting agreements, doctrine and working relationships between the two services will be essential. And this effort will flounder if the core competencies of the two services are not respected and built upon in shaping synergy, rather than competitive redundancy (for a discussion of how to shape a collaborative maritime security regime with respect to the Pacific, see special report one).

National Security Cutter
National Security Cutter

The USCG is at heart a maritime security, safety, and stewardship agency, which routinely operates with full authority in both the law-enforcement and military domains, sometimes simultaneously. It is a respected partner for other nations in applying the rule of law to the global maritime commons and it leads international efforts to enhance maritime security and safety. The USN is a military force, which is being transformed into a global networked maritime capability able to provide for layered defense of the United States and its global interests and friends.

The overlap between the two services is managing the security and defense issues associated with global maritime security and maritime security operations. The USCG is trained to enforce the law, provide security, rescue the endangered, facilitate commerce, protect the environment, and the like; the USN is trained to attack and defend against adversaries and to support combat forces. As the USN migrates towards more engagement in maritime security and reshapes its force structure to do so, the close collaboration with the USCG becomes more significant in shaping an effective global maritime security capability.

At the heart of the challenge of working together will be the global “rules of the game.” Allies and competitors alike see the USN as a military force; they see the USCG as a civilian law enforcement, security, and environmental response force. This perception is based on fundamental reality and reinforced by the core competencies of the two services.

The challenge now is to work the blended domain: that of layered maritime security to protect the US homeland, to engage trading partners in shaping collaborative maritime security regimes, and to participate with global partners in dealing with maritime threats close to the source or wherever identified in the maritime domain. The engagement of the commercial sector, state and local governments, along with foreign navies and coast guards will undoubtedly steer the working relationship of the USCG and USN as well.

Key Elements in Operationalizing the National Fleet

Beyond the broader effort to work through how the core competencies of the two services can be connected in an effective contribution to global maritime security, operationalizing the national fleet combines a range of core tasks central to the evolution of the two services.

These core tasks are three-fold: shaping common doctrine for shared tasks, combining where possible synergies in shipbuilding and acquiring other platforms to provide for greater numbers of physical assets, and through connectivity and networking creating a C4ISR common space for action. By providing for these tasks, an increased capability for and capacity to provide for maritime security will be created. And to provide for effective global maritime security is an overarching strategic task of growing significance to both services. An emphasis on security versus defense requires new tools and approaches to engaging federal entities in maritime security. At the same time, it requires engaging allies in building maritime data tools and situational awareness through such programs as the container security initiative. This is a “network-centric” approach but directed towards extended homeland defense and global maritime security. Coalitions at home and abroad shape the effort.

At the heart of the creation of a national fleet is the challenge of shaping doctrine for the execution of a maritime security strategy. As the USN and USCG recapitalize their physical assets, commonality in acquisition should be pursued wherever possible. The intention is to ensure that each service’s ships and boats have as much common hardware and software as possible to increase compatibility. The Coast Guard’s new National Security Cutter, for example, has a gun deck similar to one used on Navy combatants. Sensor suites and communications systems on new ships and boats will be the same. Indeed the USCG could acquire the LCS along with the USN to provide for enhanced platform synergy.

The crafting of greater synergy in making acquisition decisions is a crucial part of implementing a new national fleet policy. By building more interoperability from the ground up the ability to ebb and flow in support will be enhanced.

A core need for the national fleet capacity will be to craft as much common C4ISR space as possible. Indeed, the then Admiral Mullen CNO’s approach to the “1,000-ship Navy,” which is a core complement to the national fleet, saw C4ISR commonality as a vital requirement. This has been continued under his successor.

Global maritime awareness and the ability to communicate within the maritime domain are crucial to building the global maritime security enterprise. Similarly, since at least 1997 the USCG has been emphasizing maritime domain awareness a key activity to enhance maritime security. The MDA program encompasses comprehensive integration of federal, state, local, and private sectors. Uniquely positioned as both a military and law-enforcement service, the Coast Guard can bridge the gap between the DHS first responders and the US Navy, with its forward-deployed assets operating in open ocean reaches.

In other words, shaping a national fleet will be a key test of the Obama Administration’s commitment to shape a global policy to provide for security of the “global commons.”


***Posted September 4th, 2009