Coasties Seek More Cutters for the Pacific, Slate a 270 for Transfer
The USCG has been steadily ramping up in the Central and Western Pacific in the past couple of years, as we’ve covered extensively. In short, you are seeing more racing stripes in more places as part of a soft power counter to China’s little blue men and their own white-hulled coastal types.
The Coast Guard’s Fourteenth District, which stretches from Hawaii to Singapore and Japan (where small cargo inspection units, USCG Activities Far East/Marine Inspection Office Asia, are assigned), currently numbers some 1,800 active reserves all told including about 300 on Guam.
The largest assets currently on hand in Hawaii are the new frigate-sized National Security Cutters USCGC Kimball (WMSL 756) and USCGC Midgett (WMSL 757)— which have frequently bumped into Chinese assets. Added to this are a pair of 225-foot buoy tenders– USCGC Juniper (WLB 201) and USCGC Sequoia (WLB-215)— which are more useful than they sound, especially when it comes to littoral and unorthodox operations.
Meanwhile, CG Air Station Barbers Point, with 200 officers and enlisted personnel, has four new HC-130J Long Range Surveillance Aircraft and three recently rebuilt MH-65E Dolphins.
Three new 158-foot fast-response cutters were sent to the Guam sector in 2021 and another trio of these excellent patrol craft is already in Hawaii.
Now, the USCG is seeking $400 million in FY2024 for an additional quartet of new-built FRCs for Indo-Pacific Missions. That would give the service a full 10 FRCs based from Hawaii west in addition to its four larger cutters.
In the meantime, the service is transferring a 270-foot Bear-class cutter, USCG Cutter Harriet Lane (WMEC 903) from Portsmouth, Virginia to Hawaii. Designed in the 1980s as ocean escorts in time of Red Storm Rising style convoy runs to Europe in WWIII, the Coast Guard only built 13 and they are all on the East Coast– with nine based at Portsmouth alone.
Until the new Offshore Patrol Cutter joins the fleet in the next few years, the Bears are the most modern and advanced medium endurance cutters in the force with the most modern weapons and sensor suite. They are the last American asset with the Mark 75 OTO Melera and have some M2 .50 cals to back that popgun up, but they also carry an SLQ-32 and SRBOC and can host an HH-60-sized helicopter.
Lane’s arrival early in FY 2024, will give the USCG 11 cutters in the Indo-Pacific, which could grow to 15 if the four extra FRCs are approved.
The mission for the Coasties certainly has changed. Might could be an interesting service to join.