It’s time to designate Coast Guard Special Ops Forces

My USCG Academy classmate LCDR Russ Bowen has just published a very well-reasoned thesis on the need to create Coast Guard Special Operations Forces. Here’s the foreword written by Air Force Lt Col Michael McMahon (click the graphic to download the thesis):

Russ Bowen's thesisThis paper examines the Coast Guard’s historic participation in special operations and posits a requirement for the Coast Guard to designate a special operations force today–Coast Guard SOF. Lieutenant Commander Bowen advances a timely argument for the formation of additional SOF units, Coast Guard (CG) SOF units, at a time when USSOCOM is under pressure to expand SOF capabilities. Bowen argues that the Coast Guard has considerable experience fighting terrorists, insurgents, and criminal networks, all of which have the cellular, compartmented structures that describe the current threats in the global war on terrorism. These are the same threats that US Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) seeks to thwart by means of its global campaign plan to synchronize the counterterrorism efforts of the Department of Defense.
He points out that Title 46 of the US Code established the Coast Guard’s Maritime Safety and Security Teams to respond to terrorist activity. These teams are a rapid response force capable of deployment in response to various threats against seaports and waterways, and they provide protection for strategic shipping, high interest vessels and critical infrastructure. Plus, Coast Guard teams are active on the high seas as well. With its maritime assets fully committed, augmentation by properly trained and assimilated CG SOF could advance USSOCOM capabilities in difficult mission areas.
Bowen suggests that forces of a CG SOF component could fill the gap he finds in maritime control and interdiction. While we have a few highly qualified teams that can do this type of work, many more are needed, and they can be made available from the Coast Guard. In this paper he writes that maritime security response requires prolific, robust, all-weather, day-night, opposed boarding capabilities with highly discriminate use of force to respond immediately to real-time, all-source intelligence.
Especially useful could be the Coast Guard experience and involvement in Foreign Internal Defense (FID) and the potential that CG SOF hold for augmenting USSOCOM’s mission requirement in maritime environments around the globe. Indeed, Lieutenant Commander Bowen relates current Coast Guard special purpose force capabilities to six of the nine SOF Core Tasks–including FID and Civil Affairs Operations.
A Coast Guard SOF component in USSOCOM could potentially enhance SOF operations with both tactical maritime and law enforcement capabilities, particularly in the demanding environment of homeland defense. One of the conundrums of military support to homeland defense operations is the Posse Comitatus stricture that, by law and augmenting DoD policy, circumscribes the use of Federal armed forces for domestic police work–search, seizure, arrest and the like. But countering radical extremist groups that are intent upon killing Americans at home is both a military and a law enforcement concern. Lieutenant Commander Bowen’s paper suggests that CG SOF can address both requirements since CG SOF can be at once badge-carrying law enforcers and counterterrorist fighters.
Lieutenant Commander Bowen steps to the front rank of military thinkers who approach our most difficult military challenges with new ideas and fresh concepts for future operations. The reader will agree that his vision for a CG SOF is worth consideration.

Lt Col Michael C. McMahon, USAF
Director, Strategic Studies Department
Joint Special Operations University

Now I have zero SOF experience, but it sounds to me like LCDR Bowen is suggesting that a USCG Special Operations Force would span the gap between the Navy SEALs’ counterterrorism mission and the Green Berets’ mission to train, advise, and assist foreign military or paramilitary forces:

The research suggests two critical ways in which the Coast Guard can contribute to the global counterinsurgency:

  • with a credible, kinetic counterterrorism (CT) capability at knife-fighting distances in the nation’s Tier One ports
  • by using its influence and access abroad, integrated with theater special operations command campaigns, to build the capacity of foreign forces, deny sanctuary to terrorists, and provide early warning on the strength or collapse of maritime security forces around the world

Some may counter that the Coast Guard is not the place for special operations, but in point of fact, the Coast Guard has been a place for special operations and must be a place for special operations if it is to contribute the full weight of its authority, expertise, and capability to help the nation defeat the radical-Islamist insurgency.

This makes sense to me, but I’ll be publicizing this thesis with milbloggers who know more about this subject than I do. I can’t wait to hear what they think.

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