Racing Stripes of the Philippine Sea

There is a good reason why so many “coast guards” around the globe have racing stripes similar to the one the U.S. Coast Guard adopted in the 1960s.

The USCG does a lot of unsung nation-building operations around the world and has done so for years. The fact is, a low-tech cutter is often a better training mesh with the navy or maritime patrol force of a small coastal nation. One of the longest relationships is with the Japan Coast Guard, which was founded in May 1948 as the Japan Maritime Safety Agency– notably six years and two months prior to the current Japan Maritime Self Defense Force.

In an ode to the past, and with eyes on the future, the huge (9,300-ton) Shikishima-class patrol vessel Akitsushima (PLH-32) of the JCG last month conducted exercises near the Ogasawara (Bonin) Islands in the Philippine Sea with the West Pac-deployed 4,600-ton Bertholf-class National Security Cutter USCGC Kimball (WMSL-756). The drills included operating “helicopters, small boats, and unmanned aerial vehicles to practice interdicting foreign vessels operating illegally inside Japanese waters.”

The two ships looked great together.

Of note, Akitsushima, while the same size as a DDG, is very lightly armed for her tonnage, carrying only two 35mm twin Oerlikons and two optically-trained 20mm Vulcans. She does have an impressive 20,000nm range and the capability to carry two large Super Puma helicopters.

Kimball is a bit better armed, roughly to the level of an old OHP-class frigate (once they lost their one-armed bandits) or to nearly the same standard as the baseline LCS with a 57mm MK110, a CIWS-1B/BL2, and six crew-served MGs as well as soft-kill countermeasures and a Slick-32. Would be a whole lot nicer if they had an ASW suite, an 8-pack of NSMs, and another of VLS ESSMs, but hey, it is still 2021.

Of note, the Ogasawaras are some 600 miles south of Tokyo and are sparsely populated, earning them the nickname of the “Galápagos of the Orient,” making them a target for illegal fishing and other activities. Naturally, military history buffs will recognize the names Chichijima and Iwo Jima in the chain.


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