On the Bridge of the Bertholf: Con-ops Enablement by the NSC


08/21/2011: During a visit to USCG Island in Alameda, California, headquarters of the USCG Pacific operations, Captain John F. Prince, recently commanding officer of the USCGC Bertholf and the executive officer Commander David W. Ramassini discussed recent operations and how the capabilities of the NSC allowed them to achieve mission success.

A key way to think of the NSC is a command post afloat with self-contained assets, and because of C4ISR, reachback and reachout capabilities to national assets and partner capabilities.  It is an operational bubble at sea able to control and operate over significant areas of land or sea to execute its various missions. Much like one can conceptualize the revolution inherent in the F-35 cockpit, the bridge and its various tool sets represent the “cockpit” for the command team of the Bertholf.

Rather than thinking of the NSC as a new cutter and simply as a replacement for the Hamilton class, one should think of the ship’s entry into the 21st century world of C4ISR enablement, and the bridge as where C4ISR D (i.e, C4ISR enabled decision making) is executed.

While standing on the bridge with Captain Prince and Commander Ramassini, Second Line of Defense discussed the correlation between missions conducted on their recently completed patrol and the command assets on board the ship.

Captain Prince: It was about midnight off of the Coast of Panama around 8-10 miles.  Our helicopter was broken and we had one of our small boats patrolling along the coast, and we had just recovered another.  Just then a target of interest shoots past us in a very fast boat.

Our response was to put a small boat right back into the water and off they went.  The Combat Information Center (CIC) vectored our small boat to intercept the target as the bridge and CIC had them on radar and visually on the screen monitoring the pursuit.

SLD: All this is happening on the bridge on your various C4ISR systems?

Captain Prince:  Yes.  We had a radar track on the guy we were chasing and we had a radar track on our small boats.  We were using the radar to vector the small boat in pursuit.  We were using the FLIR system to monitor the suspect vessel we were pursuing in order to be able to know when he was making a course change. It also allowed us to see if there was any other suspicious activity ranging from jettisoning packages to other activities on deck.

SLD: As you indicated earlier, this pursuit was occurring in the middle of the night?

Captain Prince: Yes and even though it is the middle of the night, I can see what my boat is doing.  I can see what the other boat is doing.  I can actually watch and record what is happening.

SLD: Can we move to the displays and communication systems just in front of us on the bridge and could indicate how you used these various C4ISR tools?

Captain Prince:  I can use my navigation display in front of us to have full situational awareness of any navigational dangers as I am steaming in this case at more than 25 knots in support of the pursuit of the suspect vessel. I am able to monitor the bigger picture making sure that I am just not going to run myself or my small boats into a cargo ship by being fixated on the go-fast style vessel we are chasing.

And we have a blue force locator within our common operating picture so I know where is the nearest navy ship is and aircraft in vicinity of me. All the relevant information was available right here on the four screens on the bridge enhancing a coordinated response.

If I wanted to talk to our small boat, I can press a button.  If I wanted to talk to the CIC, I can press another button.  If I want to talk to relevant USCG operations centers I can press another button.  I can talk internally within the ship, I can talk locally and I can talk globally by pressing a button in front of us.

SLD: In effect, you are managing a small task force from the bridge of the ship because of the C4ISR systems?

Captain Prince: Absolutely.  You have full awareness of your Area of Operation (AO), especially with the new air search radar, which is three dimensional.  We simultaneously  tracked over 50 aircraft during the Exercise Northern Edge 200 miles out.  We have significant situational awareness of a very large segment of the ocean in which we are operating.

Commander Ramassini: You are right to emphasize the task force quality provided by the systems on the NSC.  We can travel over 1500 nautical miles in two days and still remain on station for quite awhile.  We can stay on station for more than 20-25 days without any fuel concerns. We have core C4ISR systems which interoperate with our Department of Defense and Homeland Security partners.  We are able to plug and play with our navy as we we just did in Exercise Northern Edge off of Alaska;and we can work with other DHS assets like we did off the southwest border and in the drug transit zones throughout the Eastern Pacific.

For the military geographic combatant commanders, we provide an access globally, which is unique to USCG operations and relationships.  Foreign nations work with the USCG in our law enforcement capacity, which allows us to operate and partner at the lower constabulary end of the spectrum; but also interoperate with other US assets throughout the spectrum up to higher intensity operations.

This ship brings all that capability to the equation serving as a unique instrument in regional stability and global security.

Note: The C4ISR D capabilities of the NSC can be exercised either from the bridge or the command center below deck.  Captain Prince comments:

We could also do all of this from CIC  (and that is where we prefer to do it) which is where I normally go. CIC gives us access to SIPR and other tools that are not available on the bridge. I just happened to be on the bridge to supervise the small boat recovery when the  target sped by.

The video below provides Commander Ramassini’s overview on the NSC and its capabilities. SLD apologizes for the video quality of the video, for we had a mechanical malfunction with our equipment, but the audio is clear and Ramassin’s perspective is clear and to the point.