Home » News & Analysis » SOUTHCOM Pitching New, Low-Cost Ideas To Get Ships Operating In U.S. 4th Fleet


SOUTHCOM Pitching New, Low-Cost Ideas To Get Ships Operating In U.S. 4th Fleet

An Army UH-60 Blackhawk helicopter from the 1st Battalion, 228th Aviation Regiment lands on the flight deck aboard the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Lassen (DDG 82) while conducting deck landing qualifications (DLQs). Lassen is currently underway in support of Operation Martillo, a joint operation with the U.S. Coast Guard and partner nations within the 4th Fleet area of responsibility. SOUTHCOM commander Adm. Kurt Tidd said he's been pushing for greater inter-agency and international collaboration as well as innovation in his theater, all of which was showcased in Operation Martillo. US Navy photo.

An Army UH-60 Blackhawk helicopter from the 1st Battalion, 228th Aviation Regiment lands on the flight deck aboard the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Lassen (DDG 82) while conducting deck landing qualifications (DLQs). Lassen is currently underway in support of Operation Martillo, a joint operation with the U.S. Coast Guard and partner nations within the 4th Fleet area of responsibility. SOUTHCOM commander Adm. Kurt Tidd said he’s been pushing for greater inter-agency and international collaboration as well as innovation in his theater, all of which was showcased in Operation Martillo. US Navy photo.

U.S. Southern Command wants to be a hub for innovation, both in serving as an early tester for new technologies and ideas that can be brought into theater and also in seeking creative ways to get more ships into theater to train with regional partners.

SOUTHCOM Commander Adm. Kurt Tidd said today at an event co-hosted by the Center for Strategic and International Studies and the U.S. Naval Institute that his theater has changed drastically from the days when leadership focused primarily on interrupting the narcotics trade and could do so primarily with frigates and maritime patrol aircraft. Instead, the threat set has grown increasingly complex – networks are engaged in moving illicit goods, trafficking both criminals and refugees, laundering money and more – and ships and planes at SOUTHCOM’s disposal are all but gone, due to both the retirement of the frigate fleet and more urgent needs for ships in the Pacific and Middle East.

Tidd said he doesn’t need a carrier strike group to counter this more complex threat – and he noted that he wouldn’t get one if he asked for a CSG – but he does need ships to go on presence missions, to train with regional partners and to help search for sophisticated semi- and fully submersible vehicles now used to move people and drugs into the United States.

The admiral noted that ships transit through SOUTHCOM’s area of responsibility regularly while moving between the East and West coasts, and he said the Defense Department ought to be able to figure out how to leverage that temporary presence.

“While en route, why not stop for up to a week in order to conduct port visits, bilateral exchanges and short-duration exercises?” he said.
“If we could bring this kind of thinking into the future concept design for ship transits, we could provide low-cost training opportunities and visible, consistent U.S. Navy presence in a part of the world where it has been in far too short supply lately.”

Aircraft carrier USS George Washington (CVN-73) made several stops through SOUTHCOM while transiting from San Diego, Calif., to Norfolk, Va., during the three-carrier swap last year. The ship took its time coming down the West Coast of South America, stopping in Chile and Peru for exercises and partnership-building activities before rounding the Strait of Magellan and exercising in Brazil.

Moreover, Tidd added, why not send newly commissioned ships to SOUTHCOM while the crew is learning the ship and working out the kinks? He specifically mentioned LCSs, which have to go through a crew integration phase, and suggested that instead of staying in U.S. waters and exercising against notional threats they could come to the Caribbean or into Latin America to learn to operate the ship and its mission systems against a real but low-end threat.

Tidd praised the Coast Guard for increasing its presence in SOUTHCOM as the Navy’s presence fell. He said that Commandant of the Coast Guard Adm. Paul Zukunft has promised to maintained a boosted presence of cutters in U.S. 4th Fleet as well as a commensurate plus-up in maritime patrol aircraft to help support the ships.

“This support is especially critical as the Navy decommissions its frigates and P-3 aircraft and awaits the full deployment of its new line of Littoral Combat Ships and its fleet of P-8 Poseidon aircraft,” he said.
“In essence, the Coast Guard is enabling us to meet our Title X statutory obligations and deterring human smuggling. There’s a reason why we in SOUTHCOM refer to the Coast Guard as SOUTHCOM’s navy.”

Coast Guardsmen from the Coast Guard Cutter Stratton from Alameda, Calif., unload narcotics from a smuggling vessel intercepted by the crew in the Eastern Pacific Ocean July 30, 2014. US Coast Guard Photo

Coast Guardsmen from the Coast Guard Cutter Stratton from Alameda, Calif., unload narcotics from a smuggling vessel intercepted by the crew in the Eastern Pacific Ocean July 30, 2014. US Coast Guard Photo

In addition to maritime forces, Tidd said other components of the U.S. security and law enforcement apparatus and their foreign counterparts would have to work together more closely.

“We’re lifting our sights from an exclusive focus on a single illicit commodity – drugs – and instead we’re challenging ourselves to take a networked view of the environment. That means thinking and acting in multiple domains, embracing cross-functional teams, tearing down stovepipes, developing the staff to embrace complexity and alternative viewpoints, and constantly learning, adapting and applying new approaches and ideas,” Tidd said.
“We need to increase regional maritime cooperation, real-time information sharing and multi-national operations. We need to continue building and reinforcing bonds of trust across and between our own military, law enforcement, diplomatic and intelligence communities, fusing these bonds bilaterally and multilaterally with our key partners. We need to explore innovative technologies that don’t just make us smarter but also better. We need to support more operations like Homeland Security investigation Operation Citadel, which is fast becoming the model for DoD support for countering threat networks in the Western Hemisphere.”

In addition to finding innovative ways to employ assets in SOUTHCOM, Tidd said he wanted to invite others to test out their innovations in the region, saying “we can’t think of an easier place to try things out than to do it down in SOUTHCOM.”

“What we offer is a regional combatant command that has what we believe to be a challenging type of an adversary that we are dealing with, with a meaningful mission that is not an exercise – not an artificial activity, but it is a task that is worth doing,” he said.
“And so my commitment is to, whether it’s the services, whether it’s our research and development organizations, our labs – try it here first. If you’ve got something that maybe is being developed, a capability, a technology, just a tactics, techniques and procedures perhaps for another theater, perhaps a higher-threat theater, and you want to get a little bit of run time and get some valid, meaningful data collection – my commitment and the commitment of U.S. SOUTHCOM headquarters is, we’re close – basically more or less the same time zones – we’re relatively convenient to get to, and I can promise that we will do everything we possibly can to eliminate any bureaucratic barriers that might lie in the way.”

  • Ed L

    Maybe in a few more months the LCS will be able to start deploying with the 4th fleet. We need to watch Nicaragua and Venezuela with all there new Russian equipment

  • Curtis Conway

    The good Admiral Tidd’s concept of training in the low intensity SOUTHCOM region is an excellent idea.

    “Moreover, Tidd added, why not send newly commissioned ships to SOUTHCOM while the crew is learning the ship and working out the kinks? He specifically mentioned LCSs, which have to go through a crew integration phase, and suggested that instead of staying in U.S. waters and exercising against notional threats they could come to the Caribbean or into Latin America to learn to operate the ship and its mission systems against a real but low-end threat.” Not the first time we have heard this idea. Makes a lot of sense. The Training LCS’s perhaps will fill this need.

    “Tidd praised the Coast Guard for increasing its presence in SOUTHCOM as the Navy’s presence fell.” This is another reason for the US Coast Guard to replace their National Security Cutter force with at least a one-for-one replacement of all 12 Hamilton Class Cutters, and an excellent case to grow the force by many units, or for the US Navy to develop another capable frigate program that has significantly more endurance and combat power than the LCS.

    US Navy presence in the Caribbean is going to have to grow. Another base like Naval Air Station Roosevelt Roads needs to be established due to increase drug interdiction operations, and growth of Russian forces transiting to and from Venezuela. Communist influences have been in the increase over the last eight years in the region.

    • Bet that the Puerto Ricans would sure like to have all that Rosy Roads Navy money back into their economy. I wonder how that Vieques thing is working out?

      • Curtis Conway

        Don’t think we could get the bombing and NGFS ranges back, but things around the mountain are another question. The NAS facilities are pretty much unused. The piers are still there, and most of the facilities could be recovered, or reconstituted. However, it could be rehabbed to return to its previous glory. Many facilities need to be rebuilt/replaced/refurbished. Many facilities no longer exist it appears on the Google Earth. SEAL facilities, and the SEABEE base cases in point. Standing back up the missile test facility would be great. Telemetry facility appears to still be there, but new construction would be required. New barracks would be required. If the Russians continue to build in the region then more activity over at US Coast Guard Air Station Borinquen will be required. Lots of room for aircraft activity there. The PRANG should probably upgrade to F-16s and move from San Juan to Air Station Borinquen. Have no idea what is going on in Camp Santiago.

        A Reserve P-8A Poseidon Squadron at NAS Ft. Worth JRB, with Dets at Roosy would be great for the region, and perfectly located. Put a USCG NSC or two OPCs when they are available at San Juan, and the region can be covered.

        • Somebody forward these recommendations to Donald J. Trump. Could be a plan to help out with the Puerto Rican bankruptcy.

    • Byron G.

      Remember Naval Station Ingleside (NIS), TX ? Too close to narco-flow to remain in operation (apologies for sarcasm) ?

  • Western

    Back in the day, the military used “coastal observers,” scattered throughout the islands in the Pacific, with little more than binoculars and a radio.
    Today? Well…outfit a select few fishing boats and charter boats with more sophisticated FLIR, radar and sonar and a sat phone. What companies make pallets? High speed boats/engines? Put RFID chips or LOJACK devices in them. Remote cameras on buoys. After all this time we do not have a SOSUS line down there?
    And finally, if we just invested more in our own Merchant Marine, and had US-flagged commercial shipping vessels in the region, it would open up a world of new possibilities, and show the flag, so to speak.

  • PolicyWonk

    He specifically mentioned LCSs, which have to go through a crew
    integration phase, and suggested that instead of staying in U.S. waters
    and exercising against notional threat…
    ===============================================
    LCS has to become reliable as a SHIP before we can reliably send it out of US waters. They have earned a notorious reputation for unreliability – hence – sending them well away from US waters simply isn’t safe.

    • John King

      Might agree with you PW, but even when the kinks are worked out, given the low capabilities of the LCS fleet, let’s just deploy it ALL to the COUTHCOM AOR!

      • John King

        Correction…SOUTHCOM

        • PolicyWonk

          Heh –

          Yep – message received.

          The Littoral Combat Ship isn’t suitable for combat, so it should always be somewhere where hostilities aren’t likely to break out (or where they are likely to break down!).

          • Byron G.

            Tin can with no armor or punch. It’s not even capable to, say, leave home port USAC / transit PanCan / arrive USWC port.

    • Byron G.

      The LCS fleet should be stripped down and re-tasked ferrying commuters to Staten Island, or Catalina. Maybe a casino boat operating from Galveston ?

  • Donald Carey

    His ideas are too good to ever be implemented. He had better be careful, too – people like him are a threat to the bureaucrat-admirals that infest the Navy’s high command.

    • Byron G.

      Any practical proposals for reducing human or narco-tracking will encounter resistance. I say this of my own observations from the bleachers, but it’s probly an empirically robust analysis, too.

  • Byron G.

    I’m no expert but I like what he is saying !