Headed to work, 16 years ago today
Here we see the Hamilton-class U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Dallas (WHEC-716) as she escorts the motor vessel BBC Spain. Aboard Spain‘s deck are a quartet of USCG 110-foot Island-class patrol boats headed via the Mediterranean and Suez for deployment to the Persian Gulf, March 19, 2003.
While Dallas was stricken and transferred to the Philippines in 2012– where she continues to serve in a haze gray scheme as BRP Ramon Alcaraz (FF-16)— and BBC Spain is now the Russian-flagged cargo vessel S. Kuznetsov — those four patrol boats are still under the same flag in the Persian Gulf, clocking in.
USCG Patrol Forces Southwest Asia (PATFORSWA), established in 2002 in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom, is the Coast Guard’s largest unit outside of the U.S. The original four WPBs shown above on Spain— Adak, Aquidneck, Baranof, and Wrangell– were joined by Monomoy and Maui in May 2004 bringing the number of 110s in the Arabian Gulf to six.
The Navy likes to use the Coast Guard’s small patrol boats (110s/87s) in confined littoral areas as the coasties have them while the Navy simply doesn’t. After all, why risk a $1 billion destroyer with a 300-man crew when the USCG has an $8 million patrol boat with a 22-man crew that can get in closer and already has hundreds of (often high-risk) boardings under their belt before they rotate into the Gulf.
Plus (and this is just my humble opinion) it would look worse if the Iranians shoot up a white hulled coastie than a haze gray warship. I mean these are lifesavers here.
They did the same thing in Vietnam when some 26 82-foot Point-class cutters served as an assembled Patrol Squadron off the South Vietnamese coast from 1965 to 1970.
Since 2002, the Coast Guard has forward deployed six of their WPBs to Manama, Bahrain to serve in the Persian Gulf littoral. After all these boats can stay at sea for a week at a time, have a cutter boat, a decent surface search radar, can make 29-knots, and float in just 7 feet of seawater– which the Big Blue has a hard time pulling off. The force is very active, typically having 3-4 patrol boats underway in the Gulf at any given time looking for pirates, smugglers, terrorists out to pull off another USS Cole-style attack, and, well, the Iranians.
Whereas normally Island-class cutters deploy stateside with a 16 man (2 officer/14 enlisted) crew, those that are part of PATFORSWA typically run with a 22 person complement (3 officers/19 enlisted) as they conduct more high-risk boardings and have an increased ship’s battery. The stateside armament suite of a 110 is a 25mm Mk38 chain-gun (which is usually covered) and two single M2 .50-cal BMGs (which often are locked up below in the armory) plus a thin smattering of small arms.
Those cutters in the Gulf still use the 25mm (usually very much uncovered and loaded, ready to go) and up to five mounts for Mk19 Grenade launchers and *twin* M2’s for quite a bit more punch against boghammars and armed dhows if needed. Likewise, there are more M4s, Remmy 870s, hard plate body armor and Sig P229Rs on these forward-deployed ships than one that is poking around the Outer Banks.
Nevertheless, they still keep the same traditional white hull and red racing stripe, but with the welcome addition of a deck canopy to keep that Persian Gulf sun at bay and the non-skid from heating up to waffle-iron temperatures.