Tag Archives: River class patrol vessel

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.

Dazzle Camo, Haze Grey, and Racing Stripes in Polynesian Waters

The crew of Coast Guard Cutter Stratton (WMSL 752) returned to Alameda Saturday after completing a 97-day Operation Blue Pacific Patrol in the South Pacific.

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

While underway on the 20,348-mile patrol, Stratton’s crew worked with Pacific nations, including Fiji, France, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, and Australia “on an array of missions and prioritized combating Illegal, Unreported, and Unregulated fishing on the high seas or in partner nations’ exclusive economic zones,” including boarding 11 vessels and issuing 21 violations to combat illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing– often with bilateral shipriders aboard from small Pacific island nations, a strong warning to China’s little blue men fleet of far-reaching trawlers that haunt such areas.

Among interesting facets of the patrol was the fact that Stratton’s crew used small Unmanned Aircraft Systems (contract Scan Eagle) to increase the ship’s capabilities and further extend the cutter’s patrol area.

Stratton’s capacity for employing cutting edge technology like sUAS, gives the Coast Guard the upper hand in the fight against IUU fishing,” said CDR Charter Tschirgi, Stratton’s executive officer. “The vast area covered during patrols like these displays the reach the Coast Guard has and the length we will go to assist our partners in the Pacific.”

In another interesting evolution, while on patrol, Stratton’s crew participated in multiple joint exercises with the British River-class OPV HMS Spey (P234), the Aegis-class destroyer USS Sampson (DDG-102), fueling-at-sea with New Zealand’s replenishment vessel HMNZS Aotearoa, and joint steaming with the French Naval vessel Arago and Fijian patrol vessel Savenaca.

220130-N-CD319-1014 SOUTH PACIFIC OCEAN (Jan. 30, 2022) The Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Sampson (DDG 102) participates in Divisional Tactics (DIVTAC) formations with U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Stratton (WMSL 752) and British Royal Navy ship HMS Spey (P 234). (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Tristan Cookson)

This included Stratton and Spey steaming in formation for ten days from Hawaii to Tahiti, something you don’t see every day.

Of note, HMS Tamar (P233) and sistership Spey, outfitted with their new/old North Atlantic Dazzle camo look, are the first “permanent” Royal Navy deployment to the Indo-Pacific region in a generation, operating out of Singapore. The last Pacific Station operated by the RN was the old Commodore-in-Charge, Hong Kong, which had three Peacock-class patrol corvettes assigned, and was shuttered in 1997. 

Western Approaches Scheme Sails Again

The early flight River-class offshore patrol vessel HMS Severn (P282) was decommissioned in 2017 after a planned 15-year career with the Fishery Protection Squadron in the UK’s home waters, but the Admiralty recently decided to return her to service post-Brexit and she was recommissioned into the Royal Navy on 28 August 2021 (although she was working with still listed “In Reserve” for the past 14 months) to perform her old role as a fish cop/EEZ sovereignty patrol with the fisheries squadron (now termed the Overseas Patrol Squadron) as well as provide a school ship for navigation training. 

Importantly, it is the first time that a British ship has been reactivated for the RN from mothballs since the Falklands. 

She is at least the ninth warship in the Royal Navy to carry the name, with the eighth being a Thames-class submarine (N57) who earned battle honors for Norway (1940), the Atlantic (1940–41), Sicily (1943), and the Aegean (1943). In an ode to the RN’s surface fleet in the Battle of the Atlantic, today’s Severn was recommissioned complete with a “Western Approaches” livery – as applied to U-boat killers through much of World War II.

HMS Severn departing Falmouth, 19th August 2021, on her way to London for recommissioning in her Western Approaches livery (RN photo)

Compare her modern new/old look to a vintage predecessor: 

Canadian destroyer HMCS Restigouche (H00), circa 1944-1945, in Western Approaches scheme. Canadian Navy Heritage photo CT-284

The combination of blue-grey and green-grey on a background of white and light grey was first applied to destroyer HMS Broke in 1940 and was subsequently ‘worn’ by ships operating in the namesake approaches – extending about 1,000 miles from the UK into the Atlantic – to make it difficult for German U-boat commanders to spot them, especially in heavy seas.

HMS Severn is the first vessel to receive the paint job since World War 2 and while radar makes the use of maritime camouflage largely irrelevant, it is a tribute to sailors of the Battle of the Atlantic who operated in the same waters Severn regularly ploughs.

She sailed into the Thames for her ceremony, tied up next to the old cruiser HMS Belfast, a D-Day veteran with a similar paint job. 

HMS Severn alongside HMS Belfast for her recommissioning ceremony

Of note, the scheme was applied in Falmouth Docks by the same team who gave later generation sisterships HMS Tamar and Spey their new/old North Atlantic “Dazzle” camo look in time for their deployment to the Indo-Pacific region later this month.

Royal Navy Headed Back ‘East of Suez’

In a reversal from the Admiralty’s policies since 1997, the British Ministry of Defense is planning on permanently stationing warships in the Pacific region.

During a two-day visit to Japan this week, the UK’s Secretary of State for Defence, Ben Wallace, met with Japan’s Prime Minister Suga and Defence Minister Kishi. The big news from that meeting, going past the upcoming visit by the HMS Queen Elizabeth Carrier Group’s historic cruise through the area:

Following on from the Carrier Strike Group’s inaugural deployment, the UK will permanently assign two offshore patrol vessels to the Indo-Pacific region from later this year. It will also contribute a Littoral Response Group (LRG) in the coming years, thereby demonstrating the UK’s commitment to collective defence and security in the region in the decades ahead.

The nuts and bolts of the announcement, the RN’s River-class offshore patrol vessels, are constabulary/coast guard style vessels, running in the 2,000-ton neighborhood and mounting a medium 20mm or 30mm gun. The British are increasingly using the Rivers in the old “station ship” roles in low-risk areas around the world, a task formerly fulfilled by light cruisers before WWII.

HMS Medway (P223), a Batch 2 River-class OPV. The most advanced version of the class, they mount a single 30mm gun forward and have a few stations for GPMGs and Mini-Guns. Slow (24 knot) vessels, they can operate a medium helicopter for a short period and carry a platoon-sized element of Royal Marines or SBS Commandos. They have an independent endurance of 35 days. (MoD image)

Currently, HMS Medway (P223), a Batch 2 River, is the West Indies guard ship (Atlantic Patrol Tasking North) while her sistership HMS Forth (P222) is the Falklands guard ship and a third River, HMS Trent (P224), is forward-deployed to Atlantic Patrol Tasking South out of Gibraltar, with an area of operations than spans along the West African coast.

The British Littoral Response Group concept recently stood up is basically a dialed-down version of a U.S. Navy Amphibious Ready Group. The LRG established earlier this year for a Baltic cruise was made up of the 20,000-ton amphibious assault ship HMS Albion (L14), the 16,000-ton landing dock RFA Mounts Bay (L3008), plus Type 23 frigate HMS Lancaster, with embarked Wildcat helicopters from 847 Naval Air Squadron and a light battalion-sized element of Royal Marines from 45 and 30 Commando.

However, the Brits are platform poor. They only have eight River-class OPVs (with just five of them being the more advanced Batch 2 ships), two Albion-class LPDs, and four Bay-class landing ships. With that, the likelihood of a pair of Rivers heading to the Far East to assume a long-term station alone is going to be a heavy lift and the prospect of an LRG more likely to be a passing cruise every other year or so.

Nonetheless, the move stands to return the RN to the Pacific, which has only been visited by the occasional transitory unit once the post of Commodore-in-Charge, Hong Kong, was disestablished in 1997. Permanently based at that treaty port was a trio of Peacock-class patrol corvettes, which were roughly the same size as today’s Rivers but were at least armed with a 76mm OTO Melara gun.

The Peacocks were sailed to Manila and sold to the Philippines, warm transferred in a bittersweet handover.

Prior to that, the Singapore-based British Far East Fleet disbanded in 1971 after the expiration of the bilateral Anglo-Malayan Defence Agreement, ending a station that was held since 1837.