Coast Guard Keeps tabs on China in Aleutians, Maldives, and West Pac

The Coast Guard, flush with capable new vessels, has been steadily stretching its legs as of late, taking up the Navy’s slack a bit, and waving the flag increasingly in overseas locations. This new trend makes sense as, besides the formal People’s Liberation Army Navy, the growing (200 white hulled cutters) China Coast Guard and People’s Armed Forces Maritime Militia (4,600 blue hulled trawlers) are everywhere.

Case in point, this week the USCG’s 17th District, which covers Alaska, announced the USCGC Kimball (WMSL-756), while on a routine patrol in the Bering Sea, encountered the 13,000-ton Chinese Type 055 “destroyer” (NATO/OSD Renhai-class cruiser) Renhai (CG 101), sailing approximately 75 nautical miles north of Kiska Island. A state-of-the-art vessel comparable to a Ticonderoga-class cruiser but larger, Renhai has a 112-cell VLS system as well as two helicopters and a 130mm naval gun. Compare this to Kimball’s single 57mm MK110 and CIWS, and you see the disparity.

A Coast Guard Cutter Kimball crewmember observing a foreign vessel in the Bering Sea, September 19, 2022. (USCG Photo)

Kimball also noted other ships as well.

Via 17th District:

The Kimball crew later identified two more Chinese naval vessels and four Russian naval vessels, including a Russian Federation Navy destroyer, all in a single formation with the Renhai as a combined surface action group operating in the U.S. Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).

As a result, the Kimball crew is now operating under Operation Frontier Sentinel, a Seventeenth Coast Guard District operation designed to meet presence with presence when strategic competitors operate in and around U.S. waters. The U.S Coast Guard’s presence strengthens the international rules-based order and promotes the conduct of operations in a manner that follows international norms. While the surface action group was temporary in nature, and Kimball observed it disperse, the Kimball will continue to monitor activities in the U.S. EEZ to ensure the safety of U.S. vessels and international commerce in the area. A Coast Guard Air Station Kodiak C-130 Hercules aircrew provided support to the Kimball’s Operation Frontier Sentinel activities.

This is not the first time Coast Guard cutters deployed to the Bering Sea and North Pacific Ocean encountered Chinese naval vessels inside the U.S. EEZ/MARDEZ. Last August, Kimball and her sister Berthoff kept tabs on a surface action group– a guided missile cruiser, a guided missile destroyer, a general intelligence vessel, and an auxiliary vessel– transiting within 46 miles of the Aleutians.

Meanwhile, in the Maldives

Kimball’s sister, the Hawaii-based USCGC Midgett (WMSL 757) and crew, on a Westpac patrol under the tactical control of 7th Fleet, arrived in the Maldives last week, the first Coast Guard ship to visit the 1,200-island Indian Ocean country since USCGC Boutwell in 2009.

The class of large (418-foot/4,500-ton) frigate-sized cutters have done numerous Westpac cruises in the past few years. Since 2019, the cutters Bertholf (WMSL 750), Stratton (WMSL 752), Waesche (WMSL 751), and Munro (WMSL 755) have deployed to the Western Pacific.

Micronesia and the Solomans

Capping off a six-week extended patrol across Oceania, the 154-foot Webber/Sentinel-class fast response cutter USCGC Oliver Henry (WPC 1140) arrived back at homeport in Guam on 19 September.

The 20-member crew, augmented by two Guam-based shoreside Coasties (a YN2 and an MK2) two Navy rates (an HS2 and HM3), and a Marine Korean linguist, conducted training, fisheries observations, community and key leader engagements, and a multilateral sail.

How about that blended blue and green crew? “The crew of the Sentinel-class fast response cutter USCGC Oliver Henry (WPC 1140) takes a moment for a photo in Cairns, Australia, Sept. 5, 2022. The U.S. Coast Guard is conducting a routine deployment in Oceania as part of Operation Blue Pacific, working alongside Allies, building maritime domain awareness, and sharing best practices with partner nation navies and coast guards. Op Blue Pacific is an overarching multi-mission U.S. Coast Guard endeavor promoting security, safety, sovereignty, and economic prosperity in Oceania while strengthening relationships with our regional partners.” (U.S. Coast Guard photo Petty Officer 2nd Class Sean Ray Blas)

They covered more than 8,000 nautical miles from Guam to Cairns, Queensland, Australia, and returned with several stops in Papua New Guinea and one in the Federated States of Micronesia. They also operated with HMS Spey, the first Royal Navy warship to be forward deployed to the Pacific since Hong Kong went back to China.

The two ships were also– and this is key– refused a port visit in the Solomans which is now under a treaty with China that allows PLAN ships to refuel in Honiara. The local government there later clarified that not all foreign military ships were off limits to their ports, as Australia and New Zealand will be exempt (both countries have significant economic ties with the island nation) but it is still a bad look. Of irony, Spey and Oliver Henry were conducting an Operation Island Chief mission in the region, policing illegal fishing of the kind China is noted for.

The Coast Guard currently has three new FRCs in Guam including Henry, Myrtle Hazard (WPC 1139), and Frederick Hatch (1143), giving them options in the Westpac.

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