Today I was going to put together a post about Naval Coordination and Guidance of Shipping (NCAGS). I intended to get some information about the reservists that are primed to provide crisis support for 5th Fleet within 96 hours. That’s pretty impressive. To my surprise, the commanding officer of the NCAGS office in Chicago, reserve Cmdr. Alex Soukhanov, provided a detailed narrative that is a perfect replacement for what would have been my attempt at being witty.
Without further ado, take it away Sir.
I officially have 10 officers and 12 enlisted in my command. However, our numbers jump to 31 if you include all personnel cross-assigned to other Naval Coordination and Guidance for Shipping (NCAGS) units. The mission of my unit is to support Naval Forces Central Command as the operation interface and line of communication between U.S. Naval forces and international merchant shipping. NCAGS Chicago also has a designated crisis response force, tasked with providing surge support to NAVCENT within 96 hours.
Naval Cooperation and Guidance for Shipping (NCAGS) is a reserve-only capability, therefore highly unique. It has no active duty counterpart.
There are six NCAGS units within the U.S. NCAGS Enterprise, each aligned with a numbered fleet: NCAGS “A” (Bronx) with6th Fleet, NCAGS Chicago with 5th Fleet/NAVCENT, NCAGS “Q” as HQ with U.S. Fleet Forces, NCAGS Houston with 4th Fleet, NCAGS Kitsap with 3rd Fleet/7th Fleet, and NCAGS San Diego as a Pacific hub.
NCAGS 5th Fleet is maritime operations-centric. Other NCAGS operations are more concerned with maritime domain awareness and communications centric. NCAGS requirements are different in each AOR, so the fleet commanders utilize the resources accordingly.
The peculiarities of the NAVCENT AOR are such that our capability is one of NAVCENT’s tools, requiring a steady-state manning presence at Bahrain. The AOR has three major choke points to navigation — Sues Canal, Bab el Mandeb Straits, and Straits of Hormuz — while considering the protection of sea lanes, regional stability, and freedom of navigation. Our role is to coordinate, advise, and provide reassurance to international shipping in the event of a threat to navigation safety and maritime security. This not only includes piracy and terrorism, but also natural and environmental disasters, and other disruptions. NCAGS was employed in Haiti and in the aftermath of the earthquake/tsunami in Japan.
The NCAGS competency is built around three pillars: warfare-qualified officers, Strategic Sealift Officers, and Enlisted SMEs. The warfare-qualified officers provide for the natural Navy staff work requirements and core Navy competencies. The Strategic Sealift Officers (SSOs) are maritime industry professionals and merchant marine officers, and have a natural fit in this line of work, mainly serving as LNOs and in crisis response (they can speak the languages of Navy and maritime industry). Our enlisted SMEs fill critical roles in crisis response watch standing and in our Expeditionary Shipping Control Teams (ESCTs) and the Expeditionary Shipping Control Center (ESCC). The SCTs are small 3-person units that are deployed to ports throughout the AOR in the event of a crisis, and serve as nodes for the “brain” of the NCAGS operation — the Expeditionary Shipping Control Center (or Crisis Response Center). The SCTs operate to gather information and establish local communications with merchant shipping, and assist with the ESCC’s main function, which is to provide an AOR “White Shipping” picture to the NCAGS Commander. The White Shipping picture is a combination of open-source commercial maritime information/MDA, analysis, and local maritime business knowledge for NAVCENT.
Although we see various enlisted ratings in NCAGS, the predominant ratings are Information Systems Technicians, Electronics Technicians, Operations Specialists, Boatswain’s Mates, and Quartermasters. Our enlisted SMEs are the nucleus of the NCAGS system, and are assigned to positions throughout the NCAGS mission. They run the unit level training for all officer and enlisted positions.
NCAGS Chicago supports NAVCENT four exercises per year (Lucky Mariner, IMCMEX, and two CENTCOM Exercises). Lucky Mariner is the annual U.S. Navy NCAGS exercise, which includes convoy operations with real merchant ships. IMCMEX incorporates the Lucky Mariner exercise as well. NCAGS Chicago also participates in exercise working groups, persistent networking with industry, and interoperability with CMF. It is a true international and joint mission.
–Cmdr. Alex Soukhanov, Commanding Officer, NCAGS Chicago.