Tag Archives: National Security Cutter

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.

Bring back the Garcias!

One big result from the end of the Cold War in 1989ish and the subsequent onset of the “peace dividend” in the early 1990s was that the near-600 ship U.S. Navy was drastically drawn down. While the carriers, dropping from 15 to 10, and the mothballing then disposal of the four Iowa class battleships got the most attention, it should also be remembered that via the “Great Cruiser Slaughter” and the untimely demise of the Sprucans saw 57 cruisers and destroyers vanish from the Navy List followed by the 23 Adams-class (all decommissioned in just a 33-month period) and 4 Kidd-class DDGs, and the 40 Knox-class fast frigates which killed off the tin cans.

But one interesting class I am here to bemoan is the loss of the Garcias, the 10-pack of fast frigates that preceded the Knoxes.

Garcia class frigate USS Voge (FF-1047) underway as part of Task Group 24.2 with the carrier USS John F. Kennedy (CV-67) battle group, 12 Aug 1988 just a year before she was retired. Note the two 5-inch mounts, the ASROC launcher, and a good bit of open deck space. DOD 330-CFD-DN-ST-89-01279, National Archives Identifier:6442941

Built in the 1960s as some of the last of the destroyer escorts, they were kind of easy to forget. Just 414 feet overall with a 2,600-ton displacement, they used a simple steam plant of two boilers feeding a single steam turbine and a centerline screw, giving them a top speed of 27 knots but the ability to cruise at 20 for 4,000nm– making them perfect for wartime cross-Atlantic convoy escort.

USS Garcia (DE-1040, later FF-1040) underway, in August 1972. NHHC K-95195

The significant size of the sonar dome can be seen from this image of Voge in dry-dock.

They had a decent ASW fit including a bow-mounted sonar, a platform for an SH-2 Seaprite, both Mk32 (side-launched) and Mk25 (stern launched) torpedo tubes, and an 8-cell ASROC “Matchbox” launcher with eight reloads. For surface action, they had a pair of WWII/Korean War throwback 5″/38s in Mk 30 mounts as well as the possibility to use Harpoons in the ASROC launcher.

While they were dead meat against an incoming airstrike, at least one ship, USS Bradley (DE-1041), had a RIM-7 Sea Sparrow BPDMS installed while keeping the rest of the armament fit. All this with a 250-man crew. Indeed, the first six FFGs (originally DEGs), the Brooke class, were essentially just Garcias that had been equipped with an Mk-22 “one-armed bandit” launcher amidships with a 16-slot magazine. 

Garcia class frigate by Christian Capurro

USS Brooke, seen here in Florida waters, was the first of a half-dozen Brooke class-guided missile frigates (FFG 1-6). They were designated as they were fitted with the Mk 22 missile launcher for the Standard anti-aircraft missile, located on top of the superstructure amidships. in place of the 5″/38 Mk30 mount and magazine

Garcia 2022

Imagine for a moment that an updated Garcia were to be fielded today.

The same-sized hull is already made in America, the Legend/Berthoff-class national security cutter (NSC).

Built at Pascagoula, the 4,500-ton Stratton is the USCG’s the third Legend-class National Security Cutter

The centerpiece of the Coast Guard’s fleet (which runs 418 feet oal and weighs in at 4,500 tons) the NSC has a CODAG engineering suite of MTU 20V 1163 diesels and a single LM2500 gas turbine that is capable of “over 28 knots” with a 12,000nm cruising range while needing fewer sailors to keep it running than a Garcia of old. Add a modern MK45 5″/62 up front, shoehorn a second 5-incher amidships– the mounts weigh almost the same as the old Mk 30s on the Garcias while having a much more capable gun. Insert an 8-cell of strike length VLS for VLA-ASROC, another 8-cell short VLS for quad-packed Enhanced Sea Sparrows for air defense, and swap out the NSC’s current CIWS for a 21-cell RAM launcher. The NSC already has a sonar fit, which could be expanded, as well as a huge (for its size) hangar and stern pad. Instead of the stern-launched 31-foot cutter boat, install a towed sonar array and an eight-pack of Naval Strike Missiles similar to the stern Harpoon cans seen on the Ticonderogas.

They would be a great “low” part of a “high/low” frigate mix when balanced against the building Constellation-class FFGs.

While the Constellations are direly needed, there is still a huge gap left in the FF arena that was created when the Knoxes and Garcias left. Further, once the 21 remaining Ticos are retired, that is a further 42 5-inch guns that will disappear from the fleet without any real replacement (the Constellation has a 57mm gun while the Burkes aren’t realistically going to get close enough to shore for NGFS any more than the Ticos would have.)

While great for busting smugglers and policing duties, the NSCs are armed akin to an LCS…

NSCs have an estimated average procurement cost of about $950 million per ship as it is, and you could imagine a 20 percent increase with the redesign and new weapon fit, putting such a program in the range of about $1.3B per hull, which is about the same as the larger Constellations. However, you get two 5-inch guns and a focus on killing subs whereas the multi-mission nature of the Constellations means they will be much like the old Perry-class FFGs they replaced and lean towards a more anti-air frigate concept– and will take several years to get in the water and the bugs worked out.

Contrast this with the fact that the NSCs have been under construction for 15 years and Ingalls has kind of gotten it figured out, plus, they have used the hull for a series of proposed LCS and Patrol Frigate designs they have pitched around the world, so they likely already have a lot of the backend design work brainstormed for an up-armed NSC already.

Ingalls Shipbuilding Sea Control Frigate based on National security cutter

Ingalls Shipbuilding Sea Control Frigate based on National security cutter

A 20-30 ship class of “Garcia’d” NSCs in haze gray, matching the Constellations hull-for-hull, would go a long way towards making the Navy whole, and would be an easy export option for allies seeking a similar ASW/AShW optimized fast frigate. 

Just saying.

RIMPAC Review (and Coasties, too)

The 28th biennial RIMPAC, the world’s largest maritime warfare exercise, wrapped up last Friday. In all, some 26 nations sent 38 ships, four submarines, more than 170 aircraft, more than 30 unmanned systems, and 25,000 personnel to take part in the six-week exercise that stretched across the Hawaiian Islands and Southern California.

We’ve detailed some of the interesting ships already, but be sure to check out this great PHOTOEX of the combined fleet steaming in perfect formation in bright daylight.

Batteries released

There were two SINKEXs, the first of which was the recently-retired OHP-class frigate ex-USS Rodney M. Davis (FFG 60) sent to the bottom in waters more than 15,000 feet deep and over 50 nautical miles North of Kauai. From the sea, U.S. Navy guided-missile destroyer USS Chaffee (DDG 90) shot her Mark 45 5-inch gun. Units from Australia, Canada, Malaysia, and the U.S. participated in the sinking exercise “to gain proficiency in tactics, targeting, and live firing against a surface target at sea.”

The second of which was the old gator ex-USS Denver (LPD 9), sent down almost on top of Davis. From the land, the Japanese Ground Self-Defense Force and U.S. Army shot Type 12 surface-to-ship missiles and practice rockets. From the air, U.S. Navy F/A-18F Super Hornets assigned to Fighter Attack Squadron 41 shot a long-range anti-ship missile. U.S. Army AH-64 Apache helicopters shot air-to-ground Hellfire missiles, rockets, and 30mm guns. U.S. Marine Corps F/A-18C/D Hornets assigned to Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 232, Marine Air-Ground Task Force 7, fired an air-launched cruise missile, air-to-surface anti-radiation missiles, an air-to-ground anti-radiation missile, and joint direct attack munitions.

Coasties for the layup

Of note, the Coast Guard, stretching its legs via the service’s new and long-ranging frigate-sized (4,600t, 418-feet oal) Ingalls-built Legend-class national security cutters, contributing to the largest Coast Guard participation in the history of RIMPAC. This included the NSC cutter Midgett (WMSL-757) and the new 154-foot Fast Response Cutter William Hart (WPC 1134), the Pacific Dive Locker (who took part in port clearance operations with members of the ROK Navy), and Maritime Safety and Security Team Honolulu (who did survey work in the port in support of clearing).

Importantly, although her largest currently embarked weapon is a 57mm Bofors, Midgett has long-range sensors (a 3D TRS-16 AN/SPS-75 air search radar with an instrumented range of up to 250 km plus a AN/SPS-79 surface search set) and logged “at least nine constructive kills” during RIMPAC’s war at sea phase of RIMPAC, feeding targeting information to other assets via Link 16, an underrated force multiplier.

Midgett also embarked Navy MH-60Rs off and on during the exercise, something you can be sure of seeing during a real live shooting war. This is reportedly the first time the platform has operated from a cutter during RIMPAC

The Marines at Schofield Barracks have used FRCs in the past to set up commo nodes afloat, a task that it is super easy to imagine these shallow draft littoral vessels performing in time of crisis around scattered West Pac atolls. This worked with a mesh between the USCG’s Rescue 21 C4ISR system and an embarked Marine SATCOM team.
 
Marines and the @U.S. Coast Guard establish communications aboard USCGC William Hart (WPC 1134) during Large Scale Exercise 2021, at U.S. Coast Guard Base Honolulu. LSE 2021 is a live, virtual, and constructive exercise employing integrated command and control, intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance, and sensors across the joint force to expand battlefield awareness, share targeting data, and conduct long-range precision strikes in support of naval operations in a contested and distributed maritime environment. 

Getting your lean on

Born in Pascagoula, the class leader of the 418-foot Legend-class National Security Cutters, USCGC Bertholf (WMSL-750), joined the fleet in 2008 and since then, nine of the ships have replaced the circa 1960s 378-foot Hamilton-class high endurance cutters in the Coast Guard’s inventory. The service uses these light frigate-sized vessels in overseas deployments to the Med and West Pac, as well as in patrols of the North Pac– monitoring 900,000 square miles of the U.S. exclusive economic zone off the Alaskan coast– which can be demanding.

Thus from Betholf’s social media page:

Bertholf made it safely to Kodiak, AK last week. During our transit, we encountered 15ft seas, 50kt winds, and 35-degree rolls.

Last September, Berthof and her sistership and Kimball (WMSL-756) kept tabs on a four-ship task force from the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) operating as close as 46 miles off the Aleutian Island coast.

In other National Security Cutter news, shipbuilders at Ingalls just completed the longest translation on record for the shipyard with future USCGC Calhoun (WMSL 759) before officially launching the ship into the water in Pascagoula.

In November of 2020, the ninth NSC, Stone (WMSL 758)— named after the service’s famed first aviator— was delivered to the Coast Guard and proceeded to conduct an unprecedented 68-day shakedown patrol, which resulted in a drug bust within two weeks of sail away and an extensive illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing enforcement patrol off the coast of South America.

Calhoun, the 10th NSC, is scheduled to be christened at Ingalls Shipbuilding in June 2022 and is expected to be delivered in early 2023.

The 11th, and planned final (unless the USCG gets more money), NSC, USCGC Friedman (WMSL-760), will be delivered around 2024.

Coast Guard Clears Northwest Passage, Marks Increasing Overseas Deployments

One of the smallest of the armed forces– in manpower terms only about a tenth the size of the U.S. Navy, and roughly equivalent in the same metric to the much better-funded French Navy — the U.S. Coast Guard has been showing up overseas a lot recently.

Yesterday, the icebreaker USCGC Healy (WAGB 20), arrived in Baltimore following a recent transit of the Arctic’s Northwest Passage for the first time since 2005. Importantly in terms of polar commerce, Healy’s skipper said the ice had receded to the point that the cutter’s crew couldn’t even get an “ice liberty” call.

“A lot of the floes had melt ponds with holes in them like Swiss cheese,” Capt. Kenneth Boda, commander of the Seattle-based icebreaker, told the Seattle Times. “We couldn’t get the right floe.”

Healy left her Seattle homeport on July 10, arrived at Dutch Harbor 19 July, conducted operations in the Gulf of Alaska and the Bering Sea, then entered the Chukchi Sea, crossed the Beaufort Sea, entered the Northwest Passage which involved transiting the straits between Banks and Victoria Island and Devon and Baffin Island, proceeded down Baffin Bay and the Devon Strait, calling at Nuuk, Greenland on 13 September. From there, she proceeded through the Labrador Sea to Halifax (9 October) and Boston (14 October) before calling at the Coast Guard Yard in Baltimore after a 102-day cruise starting in the Pacific, running through the Arctic Ocean, and ending up on the Atlantic coast.

It should be pointed out that Healy is one of the Coast Guard’s polar-capable icebreakers and the service operates her as a “multi-mission vessel to protect American interests in the Arctic region.” However, she is only termed a “medium icebreaker,” built more for science than for crushing ice. Further, her only provision for armament is pintel mounted crew-served weapons, such as .50 cals, which are almost always stowed.

In stark contrast, the planned new Russian Arctic patrol ship class is intended to carry the very deadly and long-ranged Kalibr-K “Club K” (NATO: SS-N-27 Sizzler) container-type cruise missile system. Keep in mind that the Russians tossed Kalibrs from small corvette-sized warships in the Caspian Sea some 1,500 miles over Iranian and Iraqi airspace to hit targets in Syria 2015.

Club K missile containers at the stern of the Russian ice-class project 23550 patrol ship

Keep in mind that in 2018, then-USCG Commandant Paul Zukunft said while speaking at the Surface Navy Association that the service’s new heavy icebreaker (I mean Polar Security Cutter) class building in Mississippi will have space, weight, and electrical power set aside to carry offensive weapons, such as the Naval Strike Missile.

WestPac cruises

Besides talking about polar presence, the Coast Guard is increasingly showing up in points West, as exemplified by the return this week of the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Munro (WMSL 755) and crew returned to their Alameda homeport Wednesday following a 102-day, 22,000-nautical-mile deployment to the Western Pacific.

The 418-foot National Security Cutters like Munro, essentially an old school fast frigate sans ASW weapons (but with sonar), have been making WestPac cruises under the tactical control of Commander, U.S. 7th Fleet, with much regularity. Big Navy likes these white hulls as they are arguably more capable than the LCS and free up precious DDGs from nation-building and flag-waving evolutions so they can spend more time with the carrier and phib groups.

September 2021, HMAS Sirius (AO-266) conducts a dual replenishment at sea with HMAS Canberra (LHD-2) and USCGC Munro (WMSL-755), during Indo-Pacific Endeavour 2021. (RAN Photo by LSIS Leo Baumgartner)

During her deployment, in addition to meshing with U.S. Navy assets, Munro worked alongside the Japan Coast Guard, the Japan Maritime Self Defense Force, the Philippine Coast Guard and Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources, the Royal Australian Navy, and the Indonesia Maritime Security Agency. She also kept tabs on a Chinese naval task force found unexpectedly operating just off the Aleutians. 

Since 2018, three other National Security Cutters – Bertholf, Stratton, and Waesche – have deployed to the Western Pacific.

Overseas training 

Finally, as many gently-used former Coast Guard assets, including 110-foot Island-class and 87-foot Maritime Protector-class patrol boats, are being gifted to overseas allies, the USCG has been training the incoming new owners. Such an example is the below video from VOA, posted this week, of USCG personnel training Ukrainian navy bluejackets.

Dutch Harbor: Fast Forward 80 Years

Earlier this month, USCGC Kimball (WMSL-756), a shiny new 420-foot Legend-class National Security Cutter (named in honor of the organizer of the United States Life-Saving Service and the General Superintendent of the Life-Saving Service from 1878–1915), along with sistership Berthoff, kept a close eye on a four-ship Chinese Navy task force that came within 43 miles of the Alaskan coast. 

Last week, Kimball made another international connection along the shores of the 49th State when, in a less tense interaction, she steamed alongside JS Kashima (TV-3508), an officer training ship of the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force. A 4,050-ton vessel, the 469-foot Kashima is about the size of a frigate and is a good mirror to Kimball, armed with a single 76mm OTO and a set of ASW torpedo tubes.

The U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Kimball and the Japan Naval Training Vessel Kashima transit together during a maritime exercise near Dutch Harbor, Alaska, on Sept. 20, 2021. (USCG photo)

Via U.S. Coast Guard 17th District Alaska:

The Kimball crew and the JMSDF crew, aboard the Naval Training Vessel Kashima, operated alongside one another in the Aleutian Island chain to exchange visual communications, followed by honors, as their respective crews lined their ship’s rails for a uniform salute.

This display of maritime cooperation and mutual respect emphasizes both the United States’ and Japan’s continued commitment to one another and to partnership at sea.

“The Kimball crew welcomed the opportunity to meet the Kashima and conduct a professional exercise at sea,” said Capt. Thomas D’Arcy, the Kimball’s commanding officer. “Seeing the crews aboard the Kimball and the Kashima line the rails for the passing of honors illustrates the spirit of collaboration between the U.S. Coast Guard and Japan’s maritime forces. The exercise, movements and communications between our vessels were expertly executed and the salutes exchanged exemplify the strength of our relationship with Japan as a key partner.”

Over the past year, the U.S. and Japan have increasingly strengthened their relationship in the maritime domain through the shared mission set of the JMSDF and the U.S. Coast Guard. This includes search and rescue collaboration with the 14th Coast Guard District in Hawaii and the Japanese Coast Guard Training Ship Kajima, as well as exercises between the Japanese Coast Guard and the Coast Guard Cutters Kimball, Munro and Bertholf near the Ogasawara Islands and in the North Pacific, respectively.

The first joint exercise between the Kashima crew and a Coast Guard crew occurred in the Bering Sea last September in the form of a personnel exchange with the Coast Guard Cutter Alex Haley.

The Kashima is one of four training ships that belong to the JMSDF and is used to train new officers. About 110 newly-commissioned officers and more than 300 crewmembers are aboard the ship for its nearly two-month journey from Hiroshima to Alaska, up to the Arctic and Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, then back to Japan.

The U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Kimball and the Japan Naval Training Vessel Kashima transit together during a maritime exercise near Dutch Harbor, Alaska, on Sept. 20, 2021. (USCG photo)

Of course, June 2022, only about nine months from now, will be the 80th anniversary of the Japanese push against Dutch Harbor as a sideshow to the Battle of Midway, which shows just how much things can change in that amount of time. In another irony, of course, sharp naval historians will recognize that a previous “Kashima” on the Japanese naval list was a Katori-class light cruiser of WWII fame that also spent some time steaming under U.S. escort. 

National Security Cutters Get Chance to Flex National Security Muscle

Via the U.S. Coast Guard 17th District Alaska (emphasis mine):

During a routine maritime patrol in the Bering Sea and Arctic region, U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Bertholf (WMSL-750), spotted and established radio contact with the Chinese People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) task force in international waters within the U.S. exclusive economic zone, Aug. 30, 2021. All interactions between the U.S. Coast Guard and PLAN were in accordance with international laws and norms. At no point did the PLAN task force enter U.S. territorial waters. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Ensign Bridget Boyle.

U.S. Coast Guard photo by Ensign Bridget Boyle.

The U.S. Coast Guard demonstrated its commitment to the Bering Sea and Arctic region with deployments of national security cutters Bertholf (WMSL-750), and Kimball (WMSL-756), and a U.S. Arctic patrol by icebreaker Healy.

“Security in the Bering Sea and the Arctic is homeland security,” said Vice Adm. Michael McAllister, commander Coast Guard Pacific Area. “The U.S. Coast Guard is continuously present in this important region to uphold American interests and protect U.S. economic prosperity.”

Crews interacted with local, national and international vessels throughout the Arctic. During the deployment, Bertholf and Kimball observed four ships from the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) operating as close as 46 miles off the Aleutian Island coast. While the ships were within the U.S. exclusive economic zone, they followed international laws and norms and at no point entered U.S. territorial waters.

The PLAN task force included a guided missile cruiser, a guided missile destroyer, a general intelligence vessel, and an auxiliary vessel. The Chinese vessels conducted military and surveillance operations during their deployment to the Bering Sea and North Pacific Ocean.

All interactions between the U.S. Coast Guard and PLAN were in accordance with international standards set forth in the Western Pacific Naval Symposium’s Code for Unplanned Encounters at Sea and Convention on the International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea.

While the PLAN doesn’t “officially” have any cruisers, the brand new Type 55 DDGs (NATO designation Renhai-class) are big ships, running to 13,000-tons, and having a 112-vell VLS launcher installed with missiles cued by a phased array radar. In other words, a bigger, newer version of a Tico. They are the largest and most advanced Chinese surface combatant. 

PLAN’s Nanchang (DDG-101) Type 55, from a Japanese MOD intel picture/press release earlier this year. Look at all those VLS cells…

Bertholf. At 4,500-tons and armed with a 57 mm gun, a 20mm Close-In Weapons System, four .50-caliber machine guns, two M240B 7.62mm GPMGs, and space for two helicopters, along with passive EW and SRBOC systems, it is about as heavily armed as current US Coast Guard cutters get. Of course, I’d like to see a few Harpoons/NSSMs, Mk 32 Torpedo tubes, and maybe a RAM missile system on her, but that’s just me.

Facing off against this, the pair of 4,500-ton Legend-class National Security cutters combined had two 57mm Bofors, two CIWS, and some mounted machine guns.

In all seriousness, such interactions, coupled with the use by the Navy of the same class of white hulls to cruise through the contested South China Sea on Freedom of Navigation Patrols, point to the USCG’s larger cutters at a minimum getting an armament upgrade to swap out CIWS for C-RAM and pick up a few Naval Strike Missiles to at least put them on-par with the admittedly under-armed littoral combat ships. 

If you act like a frigate, no matter the color of your hull, you better be able to back it up. 

September 2021, Royal Australian Navy fleet oiler HMAS Sirius (AO-266) conducts a dual replenishment at sea with the amphibious assault dock HMAS Canberra (LHD-2) and USCGC Munro (WMSL-755), during Indo-Pacific Endeavour 2021. (RAN Photo by LSIS Leo Baumgartner)

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.

Of Munro and Blackjacks

The 418-foot Legend-class Coast Guard Cutter Munro (WMSL 755), one of four stationed at Alameda, this week returned home after a 3-month multi-mission patrol that included both spending 37 days in the Bering Sea enforcing fisheries regulations and patrolling the maritime boundary line separating U.S. and Russian waters– interacting with a Russian Border Guard vessel in the process– then shipping down to Hawaii for two weeks of the biennial Rim of the Pacific 2020 (RIMPAC) exercises.

The nut to take from this is the fact that Munro spent a lot of her RIMPAC time practicing interoperability with Navy MH-60S Sea Hawks, a vital force multiplier that the big cutters of her class would no doubt embark in the event of a real-life DOD tasking.

PACIFIC OCEAN (Aug. 25, 2020) An MH-60S Sea Hawk Helicopter assigned to Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron (HSC) 21 hovers next to the U.S. Coast Guard Legend-class cutter USCGC Munro (WMSL 755) during exercise Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) 2020. (U.S. Navy photo 200825-N-UM706-1593 by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Madysson Anne Ritter)

As noted by the USCG:

Munro’s patrol included the embarkation of a U.S. Navy MH-60S helicopter and aircrew from Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron 21, nicknamed the “Blackjacks” during RIMPAC. Over two weeks, Munro and the Blackjacks conducted 380 flight evolutions, 55 touch and go landings, 34 vertical replenishment evolutions transferring cargo by helicopter, and multiple helicopter in flight refuels.

Now if the Navy could just add some Mk.32 ASW tubes, a towed array, and some ASuW missiles to the Legends

A look at JIATF South

CBS takes an in-depth look at Joint Interagency Task Force South. Based out of Key West, it’s commanded by a USCG flag officer but includes assets from throughout USSOUTHCOM and 4th Fleet. It’s a neat video with a lot of access granted. They go inside the CIC of a National Security Cutter– USCGC James (WMSL-754)– see HITRON fire some rounds, and get a close up of Bigfoot, the narcosub over at Truman Annex that everyone poses for pictures with.

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