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.
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.
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)
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.
Coast Guard Cutter Harriet Lane fired a commemorative shot Thursday to honor the 158th anniversary of its namesake’s action near Fort Sumter, 30 May 2019 (USCG Photo)
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 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.
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.
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)
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.
The Coast Guard’s very successful Fast Response Cutter (FRC) program, the 154-foot Sentinel-class patrol craft, just keeps ticking along, with lots of important milestones this month. It makes you wish the Navy could get on board with a similar shipbuilding impetus.
Bollinger Shipyards in Lockport, Louisiana– builder of the 110-foot Island-class and 87-foot Maritime Protector class patrol boats for the Coast Guard going back some 35 years– on 4 August delivered their 176th hull to the service, the future USCGC William Chadwick (WPC-1150). Chadwick, as the hull number points to, is the 50th FRC delivered since the first, USCGC Bernard C. Webber (WPC-1101), was contracted in September 2008. All in all, not a bad record for just under 14 years.
USCGC Chadwick will be the first of six FRCs to be homeported in Sector Boston, which is known as “The Birthplace of the Coast Guard.” Photo via Bollinger.
Based on the Dutch Damen Stan 4708 patrol vessel, the Coast Guard expects to order 64 of the increasingly useful vessels.
At a cost of about $65 million for each hull, the entire program of record is set to come in at under $4 billion which sounds like a lot but keep in mind the Navy has sunk nine times that much, over $36 billion, into the Littoral Combat Ship program already (even with the “cost savings” of decommissioning ships only a few years old, hyping that each LCS hull costs $70 million per year to keep in the water).
Besides a 25mm MK 38 Mod 2 forward, the FRCs have at least four mounts for M2 .50 cals, a decent C4ISR suite for their size, a 28-knot flank speed, and the capability to sortie over 2,000 nm on a two-week patrol without refueling or re-provisioning. They also have a stern launch and recovery ramp for a 26-foot, over-the-horizon interceptor cutter boat.
Douglas Denman arrives in Alaska after a 7,000-mile cruise
Set to be commissioned at her new home port at Ketchikan in September, the future USCGC Douglas Denman (WPC-1149), the Coast Guard’s 49th Fast Response Cutter, traveled nearly 7,000 miles from the most southeastern city in the U.S. to the most southeastern city in Alaska, transiting through the Caribbean Sea, the Panama Canal, and up the west coast of Central America and the U.S. in a 36-day voyage.
USCGC Douglas Denman (WPC-1149) via Bollinger
After delivery from Bollinger, FRCs and their plankowner crews spend almost two months at Key West where there is no shortage of missions in the Florida Straits on which to sharpen up.
From the 17th Coast Guard district on that process:
Following production of the ship in 2020, the first crewmember arrived in Ketchikan summer of 2021. Since then, the crew has undergone a year of administration and training in preparation to take ownership of the cutter. The engineering department alone attended a total of three months of school in addition to the crew’s seven weeks of familiarity training in Lockport, La., and seven weeks of Post Delivery Availability phase in Key West, Fla.
Full FRC six-pack in the Middle East
On 23 August, USCGC John Scheuerman (WPC 1146) and USCGC Clarence Sutphin Jr. (WPC 1147), joined four other examples of the newest Sentinel-class fast response cutters as part of the Coast Guard’s long-standing Patrol Forces Southwest Asia (PATFORSWA), stationed in Bahrain where U.S. 5th Fleet is headquartered.
The two FRCs completed a 10,000-nautical-mile transit to Bahrain, escorted by 270-foot medium endurance cutter USCGC Mohawk (WMEC-913), which acted as a mothership, rather than having to be loaded as float-on cargo.
Scheuerman and Sutphin were met by two other FRCs of the Coast Guard’s Persian Gulf squadron– USCGC Glen Harris (WPC 1144) and USCGC Emlen Tunnell (WPC 1145)— flying their characteristic oversized U.S. ensigns, for a great photo op through the Straits.
220822-A-KS490-1182 STRAIT OF HORMUZ (Aug. 22, 2022) From the left, U.S. Coast Guard fast response cutters USCGC Glen Harris (WPC 1144), USCGC John Scheuerman (WPC 1146), USCGC Emlen Tunnell (WPC 1145) and USCGC Clarence Sutphin Jr. (WPC 1147) transit the Strait of Hormuz, Aug. 22. The cutters are forward-deployed to U.S. 5th Fleet to help ensure maritime security and stability across the Middle East. (U.S. Army photo by Spc. Noah Martin)
Harris and Tunnell only recently arrived in Bahrain themselves, joining USCGC Robert Goldman (WPC 1142) and USCGC Charles Moulthrope (WPC 1141), to retire the six aging Reagan-era Island-class cutters that had been there since 2002 in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Legacy 110 foot Island class cutters compared to the new 154-foot Sentinel (Webber) class FRCs
Besides their stabilized MK 38 25mm gun and half-dozen (up from four as seen on stateside FRCs) M2 mounts, the Sentinels in Bahrain are equipped with the CG-HALLTS system, a hailer that has laser and LRAD capabilities, as well as a special S-band Sierra Nevada Modi RPS-42 pulse doppler with full-time 360-degree coverage, and other goodies to include four dedicated Long Range Acoustic Devices (LRADs) on the O-1 deck. Additionally, the already experienced cutter and boarding crews of PATFORSWA have to go through 5-6 weeks of Pre Deployment Training (PDT) with the service’s Special Mission Training Center at Camp Lejune and undergo more training once they reach Bahrain.
Hosting RIMPAC Marines ISR team
Finally, it should be pointed out that the FRC USCGC Cutter William Hart (WPC 1134)— who has been working with embarked teams of Hawaii-based Marines for intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance tests in the littoral since 2021– apparently did more of the same in the recently-concluded RIMPAC exercises.
Hart has been very active in presence missions in Oceania, recently completing a 10-day voyage to Samoa last winter in Operation Kurukuru and then operating alongside ships from the U.S., Australia, New Zealand, and France to combat illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing (often from Chinese trawlers) in the region while on a 39-day patrol— which is a long time to spend on a 154-foot ship.
Still, they are getting it done and on the cheap at that.
The Coast Guard Cutter William Hart participates in the Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency’s (FFA) Operation Kurukuru off American Samoa, Oct. 29, 2021. Operation Kurukuru is an annual coordinated maritime surveillance operation with the goal of combating illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing. (U.S. Coast Guard photo courtesy of the Coast Guard Cutter William Hart/Released)
One FRC just clocked 7K miles in a 39-day patrol. Sure, sure, it wasn’t an unbroken 39 days underway, but still, that’s some decent mileage on a small hull, especially on an operational cruise. Further, the patrol targeted IUU fishing, a big bone of contention with China and a legitimate cause of international heartburn in the Pacific with Bejing seen as a bully by many small Oceanic countries in the region, especially when you take the “Little Blue Men” of China’s Maritime Militia into account.
Via the USCG PAO:
HONOLULU — The crew of the Coast Guard Cutter William Hart completed its 39 day patrol over 7,000 nautical miles in Oceania in support of the Coast Guard’s Operation Blue Pacific, last week.
Operation Blue Pacific is an overarching multi-mission Coast Guard endeavor promoting security, safety, sovereignty, and economic prosperity in Oceania while strengthening relationships between our partners in the region.
“This patrol had multiple goals which really displayed the adaptability of our crew,” said Lt. Cmdr. Cynthia Travers, the commanding officer of the William Hart. “While we continued to support international efforts to combat illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing in the region, we’ve also worked with our partners including New Zealand’s National Maritime Coordination Centre (NMCC), the nation of Samoa, the National Park Service, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) on a number of joint endeavors.”
In November the crew of the William Hart, one of the Coast Guard’s new Fast Response Cutters, participated in the Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency’s (FFA) Operation Kurukuru, an annual coordinated maritime surveillance operation with the goal of combating IUU fishing.
IUU fishing presents a direct threat to the efforts of Pacific Island Countries and Territories (PICTs) to conserve fish stocks, an important renewable resource in the region.
Following the successful conclusion of Operation Kurukuru, the William Hart’s crew continued to patrol the Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZs) of the United States, Samoa, Tonga, Kiribati and Fiji to prevent illicit maritime activity.
Upon request from NOAA, the crew visited Fagatele Bay in the National Marine Sanctuary of American Samoa, using the cutter’s small boat to ensure there was no fishing or activity which would damage the coral within the United States’ largest national marine sanctuary.
The crew of the William Hart also supported a National Park Service boat during a transit between Tutuila Island and the Manu’a Islands, providing search and rescue coverage.
The cutter’s crew then departed for Fiji’s EEZ, where they supported New Zealand’s NMCC by locating an adrift Deep-ocean Assessment and Reporting of Tsunamis (DART) buoy and reporting the buoy’s condition to Headquarters Joint Forces New Zealand and other stakeholders.
DART buoys are real-time monitoring systems strategically deployed throughout the Pacific to provide important tsunami forecasting data to researchers.
“These expeditionary patrols are important to the continued stability and prosperity of Oceania,” said Lt. Cmdr. Jessica Conway, a Coast Guard 14th District operations planner. “Partnerships are key to promoting a free and open Indo-Pacific. Operation Blue Pacific allows us to coordinate with regional partners and most effectively employ our assets towards shared goals.”
Birddogging Chinese AGS
In related news from the West Pac, the Coast Guard responded to a request from the Republic of Palau pursuant to the U.S.-Palau bilateral law enforcement agreement– one of 11 bilateral law enforcement agreements with Pacific Island Countries and Territories throughout Oceania– to assist with locating the Chinese-flagged research vessel Da Yang Hao (IMO: 9861342, MMSI 413212230) and observe its activity.
Owned by the China Ocean Mineral Resources R&D Association, the ship’s main purpose is prospecting for mineral resources, but it has the equipment useful in making the kind of accurate seabed charts needed by submarines to operate safely in the area of seamounts. Of note, Palau is important for vital maritime prepositioning assets of the MSC, which would be a ripe target in the opening 24 hours of a China-US conflict.
The 4,600-ton vessel entered Palau’s EEZ on Nov. 29. On Nov. 30, the Coast Guard’s Joint Rescue Coordination Center (JRCC) Honolulu received a notification from the Palau Division of Maritime Security that the Da Yang Hao was observed north of Kayangel State within Palau’s EEZ without proper authorization.
Via Naval News
JRCC Honolulu deployed a Coast Guard Air Station Barbers Point HC-130 Hercules aircraft to locate the research vessel and confirm the vessel was not in distress given its varying course and minimal speed while operating in the Palauan EEZ.
The USCG Herky bird arrived on scene and located the research vessel approximately 100 nm WNW of the main Palauan island of Babeldaob transiting at slow speeds eastbound.
The Da Yang Hao communicated to the Hercules aircrew via radio that they were conducting storm avoidance. A subsequent overflight the following day relocated the research vessel transiting slowly north approximately 190 nautical miles northwest of the islands, approaching the limits of Palau’s EEZ.
The HC-130J features more advanced engines and propellers, which provide a 20% increase in speed and altitude and a 40% increase in range over the HC-130H Hercules. Another notable difference is the liquid oxygen system, which allows crews to fly at higher altitudes, providing a better vantage point for many missions. These aircraft have a modernized glass cockpit, the capability to execute GPS approaches, and are outfitted with the Minotaur Mission System Suite, which provides increased capabilities for use of the sensors, radar and intelligence-gathering equipment.
The National Task Force for the West Philippine Sea (NTF-WPS) received a confirmed report from the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) that around two hundred twenty (220) Chinese Fishing Vessels (CFVs), believed to be manned by Chinese maritime militia personnel, were sighted moored in line formation at the Julian Felipe Reef (Whitsun Reef) on March 7, 2021.
The Reef is a large boomerang-shaped shallow coral reef at the northeast of Pagkakaisa Banks and Reefs (Union Reefs), located approximately 175 Nautical Miles west of Bataraza, Palawan. It is within the Philippine Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) and Continental Shelf (CS), over which the country enjoys the exclusive right to exploit or conserve any resources which encompass both living resources, such as fish, and non-living resources such as oil and natural gas.
Peacetime training for CMM’s “little blue men” includes target identification, intelligence collection methods, and operation of communication terminals, typically running at least 15 days per year to include one of political education. During times of war, it is expected that CMM trawlers and longliners will be used for scouting and recon purposes, resupply of outposts, and minelaying.
Basically the old “Russian trawlers” of the Cold War, only in supersized numbers.
USS ABNAKI (ATF-96) Keeping the Soviet Trawler GIDROFON under surveillance in the South China Sea, December 1967. K-43379
No, not smurfs or the Blue Man Group, we are talking about Chinese naval auxiliaries akin to the old Soviet “Fishing Trawlers” of the Cold War days.
Defense News has an interesting article on these curious fellows of the China Sea:
“China is trying to use these government-controlled fisherman below the radar to get the bonus without the onus to support its South China Sea claims,” Andrew Erickson, an associate professor at the US Naval War College and well-known authority on Chinese naval and maritime affairs said. “It’s a phenomenon little-known or understood in the US.
“While Russia’s little green men in Crimea are widely known, insufficient attention has been paid to China’s little blue men in the South China Sea,” he said. “It’s so different from what the US does. People aren’t familiar with it, it’s hard to wrap their heads around it.”