Looking at the China Coast Guard, What Has Xi Wrought?

Photo: William Colclough / U.S. Coast Guard

The photo above, which looks so much like a National Security Cutter, headed a Marine Link report “China Authorizes Coast Guard to Fire on Foreign Vessels if Needed.” It prompted me to look again at the Wikipedia entry for “Equipment of the China Coast Guard.”

According to Wikipedia, the China Coast Guard has very few aircraft, “a handful of Harbin Z-9 helicopters (their version of the Eurocopter AS365 which is very similar to the H-65–Chuck), and a maritime patrol aircraft based on the Harbin Y-12 transport.”

Their total number of personnel is only about a third that of the USCG.

But when you look at their fleet of large cutters, it is a very different story.

This Chinese coast guard ship is equipped with weapons believed to be 76-millimeter guns. © Kyodo

The China Coast Guard (CCG) has about three times the number of large cutters (1,000 tons or larger) as the USCG. They have well over 100, including at least 60 larger than the 270s. This, in spite of the fact that their EEZ, even including their “Nine Dash Lines” claims disputed by Taiwan and other nations is less than a fifth that of the US. Their internationally recognized EEZ is less than 8% of that of the US.

Virtually all these cutters were acquired in the last 15 years. While most CCG cutters are lightly armed, that is changing rapidly, with 76mm guns and 30mm Gatling guns becoming increasingly common. Many of the new cutters are built on the same hulls as PLAN frigates and corvettes.

“As of July 1, 2018, the China Coast Guard was transferred from civilian control of the State Council and the State Oceanic Administration, to the People’s Armed Police, ultimately placing it under the command of the Central Military Commission”

The CCG does not do buoy tending or icebreaking. Primary responsibility for SAR and maritime regulatory activities are invested in other agencies. There is a 25,000 member China Maritime Safety Administration, which has a few large cutters of its own, and a 10,000 member China Rescue and Salvage Bureau with its own cutters.

I think it is fair to say the China Coast Guard is much more focused on its para-military role than the US Coast Guard. Should China attempt to invade Taiwan, I feel sure the China Coast Guard will be transporting troops and providing naval gunfire support. They might even undertake small scale surprise landings own their own, perhaps in multiple locations simultaneously.

“The great lakes are freezing at a glacial pace” –CNN

Beset in ice, the M/V Stewart J. Cort and three other Great Lakes vessels await the assistance of an icebreaker on Lake Superior–not from this year.

The weather reported here will certainly have an effect on this year’s Great Lakes icebreaking requirements and may ultimately effect what seems to be the perpetual push for another Great Lakes icebreaker.

“…Great Lakes are currently dealing with record low ice. According to the Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory (GLERL), the Great Lakes total ice coverage right now is sitting at 3.9%. This same time last year, it was sitting at 11.3%, and the year before at 18.5%…”The Great Lakes region is experiencing warmer-than-usual weather, and the max ice cover is projected to be 30%, way below the average of 53%…”

“Ship Repair: Inside the $60m Refit of RV Roger Revelle” –Marine Link

Marine Link has a very interesting look into the mid-life renovation of the research vessel Roger Revelle.  This is a Coast Guard cutter sized ship (bigger and now more powerful than a 270), and the changes are extensive, reflecting lessons learned since the ship was built. Changes include installation of an integrated propulsion and ship’s service electricity generation system system and a novel repositioning of the sonar systems. Replacement of the bow thruster system not only reduced noise that was detrimental to the science missions, but also improved living conditions on the ship.

“The original ship contract value was for $35 million to take care of specific ship systems – propulsion, controls, HVAC, piping, ballast water management – and steelwork to extend the life of the ship another 15 years or more…But “we knew that other issues on the ship needed to be addressed, or the primary users of the vessel just wouldn’t be satisfied.” That’s where the upgrades to science systems came in, adding another $25 million to the project.”

“Coast Guard awards hull contract as part of MH-60T sustainment effort” –CG-9

Below is a news release from the Acquisitions Directorate, CG-9. This is how the Coast Guard intends to keep the H-60s going until the “Future Vertical Lift” aircraft arrive. Also looks like the H-60, which have already been with the Coast Guard for 30 years, could continue in service for another 30. 


The Coast Guard today awarded a contract to Sikorsky Aircraft Corporation of Stratford, Connecticut, for new H-60 helicopter hulls as part of a program to sustain existing MH-60T helicopter hulls reaching the end of their service life. The indefinite-delivery, indefinite-quantity contract extends through April 2025 and has a potential value of $850 million.

As part of the contract award, the Coast Guard placed an initial order for 25 new hulls. The initial order, with a total value of nearly $207 million, includes non-recurring engineering costs, which enables Sikorsky to produce the hulls in the Coast Guard MH-60T configuration. The first three hulls will be used for validation of Sikorsky’s production processes and Coast Guard hull assembly procedures before moving to full rate production of the next 22 hulls. Delivery of the first new hull is anticipated in early 2023, with subsequent hulls scheduled for delivery at approximately one per month starting in late 2023.

The Coast Guard’s H-60 helicopters have been in service since 1990, and the first helicopters in the fleet are set to reach their 20,000-hour service life limit in 2023. The new hulls being delivered under this contract will replace the hulls in the legacy airframes and provide an additional 20,000 flight hours of service. These new hulls, combined with existing programmed service life extension activities, will enable the Coast Guard to align operations with the timeline for future fleet recapitalization in conjunction with the Department of Defense’s joint Future Vertical Lift program. The service plans to complete the program on a one-for-one basis as the existing helicopters reach their maximum flight hours, thereby maintaining the fleet size of 45 helicopters.

Hull replacement is just one component of the MH-60T sustainment effort. In addition to hull replacement, replacement of select dynamic components, such as main rotor blades, as well as full replacement of electrical wire harnesses will take place. Aircraft production – assembly of the hulls, installation of dynamic components, and wire harness replacement – will be completed at the Coast Guard Aviation Logistics Center in Elizabeth City, North Carolina.

For more information: MH-60T Sustainment program page

“CONVOY ESCORT: THE NAVY’S FORGOTTEN (PURPOSE) MISSION” –War on the Rocks

An Allied convoy heads eastward across the Atlantic, bound for Casablanca, in November 1942. U.S. Navy (photo 80-G-474788), Post-Work: User:W.wolny – This media is available in the holdings of the National Archives and Records Administration, cataloged under the National Archives Identifier (NAID) 520948.

War on the Rocks has a post entitled, “Convoy Escort: The Navy’s Forgotten (Purpose) Mission

Since it has been a Coast Guard mission and may be again, it might be of interest.

Contrary to the impression you may get, most of the North Atlantic convoy work during WWII was done by Great Britain’s Royal Navy and the Royal Canadian Navy. The US Navy played a relatively minor role until mid 1943.

USCGC Duane on North Atlantic Convoy Duty

“Coast Guard issues warning to mariners turning off AIS” –D13 News Release

Below is a D13 news release. In addition to the normal law enforcement and SAR aspects of AIS use, It is also an essential element of our Maritime Domain Awareness efforts. When a contact is detected without AIS, we may have to make an identification. If we want to know what is approaching our ports, we need vessels to use AIS, so we don’t have to physically sight every vessel. 

united states coast guard

News Release

U.S. Coast Guard 13th District PA Detachment Astoria
Contact: Coast Guard PA Detachment Astoria
Office: (503) 861-6380
After Hours: (206) 819-9154
PA Detachment Astoria online newsroom

Coast Guard issues warning to mariners turning off AIS

Petty Officer 2nd Class Enrique Lemos operates in the surf near Winchester Bay, Oregon

Editors’ Note: Click on image to download high resolution version.

ASTORIA, Ore. — The Coast Guard is issuing a warning to mariners and commercial fisherman about the dangers and legal consequences of disabling a vessel’s Automated Identification System.

The Coast Guard has seen an alarming increase of commercial fishing and crabbing vessels disabling their AIS, purportedly in an attempt to keep their fishing spots secret from competition.

“AIS is a vital tool in a host of Coast Guard missions including Search and Rescue and Port Security,” said Lt. Collin Gruin, boarding team supervisor at Coast Guard Sector Columbia River. “It’s not only illegal to turn it off but also incredibly dangerous.”

AIS is a maritime navigation safety communications system adopted by the international community to help save lives and facilitate safe transit of navigable waterways.

AIS automatically transmits vessel information to shore stations, other ships, and aircraft. That includes vessel identity, type, position, course, speed, navigational status, and safety-related information.

The regulation (33 CFR 164.46) in part states that all self-propelled vessels, at a length of 65-feet or more, engaged in commercial service and operating on the Territorial Seas (within 12-nautical miles of shore) must maintain AIS in effective operating condition, which includes the continual operation of AIS and its associated devices (e.g., positioning system, gyro, converters, displays) at all times while the vessel is underway or at anchor, and, if moored, at least 15 minutes prior to getting underway. Effective operation condition also includes the accurate input and upkeep of all AIS data fields; an AIS encoding guide has been provided to facilitate complying with this requirement.

Violators of this regulation can expect to receive a civil penalty up to a maximum of $35,486 per violation.

“Crabbers may think that they are protecting their businesses, but they are actually making search and rescue efforts more difficult if an emergency happens at sea,” said Gruin.

Rebuttal to ““U.S. Coast Guard’s VADM Linda Fagan (Pacific Command) answers why the Large Coast Guard Cutters Do Not Up-Arm”

As reported here earlier, PACAREA Commander VAdm Fagan expressed concern that the Coast Guard might be seen differently if its ships were better armed. “… the reaction might be different if the Coast Guard were to sort of look like the Navy combatant.”

I have a lot of respect for Adm. Fagan. PACAREA has taken some bold initiatives in law enforcement, operating Webber class far from home.

The Coast Guard is welcome in many places where the Navy is not, so this is a valid concern.

But (there is always the but) I will argue that the difference is because of the Coast Guard’s history and reputation, not because of how are ships are armed and add that, in fact, peacetime missions of law enforcement/counter terrorism, at least as much as military readiness, requires that our ships should be better armed. Meanwhile, the deteriorating international system indicates this is a time when the Coast Guard needs to prioritize its military capabilities.

A Personal Perspective: 

There are a few places, notably in Central America where the Coast Guard is welcome, but the US Navy is not. Several Central American countries have had history with the US military, that has left an unfavorable impression.

I am most familiar with the situation in Costa Rica, although my experience was long ago, when I visited there to arrange joint exercises. Since then I have seen information that Coast Guard cutters were allowed to visit and replenish in Costa Rican ports, but Navy ships were not.

Costa Rica’s distrust in of the US Navy is probably most firmly routed in their distrust of the military in general. In 1948, following a civil war, they abolished their military and the ban was included in their constitution in 1949. But, they do have a Coast Guard, last I heard, their uniforms were modelled after that of school children, but it is well provided with small arms. When I visited, long before there were regular drug interdiction operations in the Eastern Pacific, there was a US Coast Guard liaison officer there, as there had been for many years. That long relationship of mutual understanding is probably the most important reason of the current level of trust.

Perceptions: 

What is it that a foreign national sees when he or she sees a Coast Guard Cutter? Do they feel threatened? They know it is a warship because it has a gun on it. Most will not know how powerful the gun or other weapons might be. The color, white, rather than gray does look less menacing.

Would they recognize vertical launch tubes for Hellfire that can be painted white, are no more than about eight feet high and look like uptakes. Would they consider a towed array on the stern or torpedo tubes threatening? Would it make a difference to them?

Simply put, most people are not qualified to differentiate between a well armed warship and one not so well armed. When vertical launch tubes first appeared on ships, I remember people saying that they made the ships look less well armed. The people that are qualified to make the distinction know that even an up-armed cutter is not a ship that you would send to overthrow a government or subjugate even the smallest country. ASW equipment that might be appropriate to defend our ports and shipping, in particular, presents no danger to anyone on land.

We need more capability for counter terrorism:

Terrorism can come to the US from the sea. The weapon could be a jet ski or a giant LNG tanker. They might bring a weapon of mass destruction or simply a platoon of suicidal zealots armed with explosives and small arms. They might bring mines or launch cruise missiles from containers. We have seen the attack on the USS Cole, the attack on Mumbai, and attacks on shipping using remote controlled explosive motor boats in the Red Sea. Unmanned Air Vehicles (drones) present new challenges.

The US Navy is not positioned or prepared respond to such attacks They have surface warships in essential only five of the dozens of ports or port complexes in the US. They don’t patrol our coasts. DOD doesn’t have ships or any other weapons on standby ready to respond. 

The Coast Guard is well distributed to meet this Homeland Security threat, but is armed only with small arms, and 25mm, 57mm, and 76mm guns that are too small to deal with medium to large merchant ships and which present a danger of collateral damage if employed in or near a US port.

The ability to forcibly stop a vessel, regardless of size, is fundamental for a  maritime law enforcement agency. And we need to have that ability widely distributed, not just on the largest cutters that are unlikely to be available when the capability is needed. We do not have that ability.

We also need to be able to reliably stop small, fast, highly maneuverable boats. Crew served machine guns mounted in the bow of an RB-M don’t really qualify. They are inaccurate. They have the potential for inflicted collateral damage, and there is a good chance the intruder will be able to kill the gunner or coxswain before it can stop the intruder. Even a WPB armed with .50 cal. or a Webber class FRC with a 25mm may not be sufficient. Small guided weapons, like Hellfire, are a much more accurate and reliable, though still inadequate to stop the largest threats.

The vessels that really need to be up-armed are the WPBs and WPCs that protect our ports. Only relatively short range weapons are required. They should have no influence on the perception of the Coast Guard by other nations.  

Changes in the Geopolitical situation:

We know the “balance of maritime power could shift in the next 10 years”

The US is slowly loosing all of the areas that it used to be able to assume would be safe. Those area used to go almost to the shore of hostile countries but ship killer ballistic missiles, more nuclear submarines, and longer ranged aircraft carrying longer ranged missiles are shrinking our “safe space.” 

It is starting to look much more like the Cold War world before 1990 when Coast Guard cutters were routinely armed with 5″ guns and anti-submarine warfare equipment and even anti-ship cruise missiles.

Anti-Submarine Warfare:

The Chinese have about 60 conventionally powered submarines and about 19 nuclear powered subs, including six SSBNs and 13 SSNs. Apparently they are planning to increase the number of nuclear submarines. They are doubling their capacity for building nuclear submarines so it is likely they will ultimately double the size of their fleet of nuclear submarines. 

The Russian Navy includes 12 SSBNs, 9 SSGNs, 14 SSNs, and 22 conventionally powered attack boats, and six special purpose submarines, mostly nuclear powered including two or three capable of deploying the Poseidon, a huge 6200 mile range nuclear armed and powered torpedo sometimes called the “Status Six.” The increased aggressiveness has prompted a revival of the Atlantic Fleet as a separate command.  

Both the US Navy and US shipbuilding capacity has been in slow decline since the fall of the Soviet Union. So far our build rate is far below that of the Chinese. 

These systems present a serious challenge to US Navy capabilities. 

Cruise Missiles:

USCGC Mellon seen here launching a Harpoon anti-ship cruise missile in 1990.

In wartime, it is unlikely the Coast Guard would need long ranged anti-ship cruise missiles (ASCM). Cutters are not likely to square off against Chinese surface warships although we are likely to have many interactions with Chinese flag or controlled merchant ships at the start of any conflict with the PRC.

On the other hand, they are one way we might be able to address the potential threat of terrorist controlled merchant ships. The Navy does want to put ASCMs on almost everything, “If it floats it fights.”

ASCMs are an addition that might cause unease in a small country, because in many cases they can be used against targets on shore. There is, however, a simple way to alleviate this anxiety if it proves to be a concern. Using deck mounted launchers, as would be the case on cutters, it can be clear whether missiles are actually on board or not. If our friends have misgivings about a cutter with ASCMs, then simply do no load them, if the cutter is going to be in an area where that is a concern.

Conclusion:

The system upgrades we need to counter terrorists are small and relatively innocuous (like Hellfire and very light weight torpedoes). They are really most needed by vessels that usually don’t venture into foreign waters.

The upgrades our large cutters need are primarily anti-submarine systems and present no threat to small nations.

Even if we did add the capability to have anti-ship cruise missiles, which I see as much less important, it would be easy enough to leave them ashore when going to destinations that might be sensitive to that capability. Empty missile launch cradles would be an obvious signal of lack of aggressive intent.

“Coast Guard conducts security operations for 2021 Presidential Inauguration” –Press Release

FYI, a D5 news release

Photos Available: Coast Guard conducts security operations for 2021 Presidential Inauguration

Photos Release

U.S. Coast Guard 5th District Public Affairs North
D5 Public Affairs North, Baltimore, Md
Office: (410) 576-2541
After Hours: (757) 513-3738
D5 Public Affairs North online newsroom

Photos Available: Coast Guard conducts security operations for 2021 Presidential Inauguration

Editors Note: Click on images to download high resolution version.

Petty Officer Sean Tocci, a boatswain’s mate with Coast Guard Maritime Safety and Security Team 91110, based in Cape Cod, Mass., stands bow gunner duty during a security patrol ahead of the 2021 Presidential Inauguration on the Anacostia River, Washington, Jan. 16, 2021. On Sept. 24, 2018, the Department of Homeland Security designated the Presidential Inauguration as a recurring National Special Security Event. Events may be designated NSSEs when they warrant the full protection, incident management and counterterrorism capabilities of the Federal Government. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Timothy James/Released)

Petty Officer Sean Tocci, a boatswain’s mate with Coast Guard Maritime Safety and Security Team 91110, based in Cape Cod, Mass., stands bow gunner duty during a security patrol ahead of the 2021 Presidential Inauguration on the Anacostia River, Washington, Jan. 16, 2021. On Sept. 24, 2018, the Department of Homeland Security designated the Presidential Inauguration as a recurring National Special Security Event. Events may be designated NSSEs when they warrant the full protection, incident management and counterterrorism capabilities of the Federal Government. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Timothy James/Released)

Petty Officer 2nd Class Richard Albert, a machinery technician with Coast Guard Maritime Safety and Security Team 91112, based in New Orleans, stands bow gunner duty during a security patrol with the Coast Guard Cutter Lawrence Lawson, homeported in Cape May, N.J., ahead of the 2021 Presidential Inauguration on the Potomac River, Washington, Jan. 16, 2021. On Sept. 24, 2018, the Department of Homeland Security designated the Presidential Inauguration as a recurring National Special Security Event. Events may be designated NSSEs when they warrant the full protection, incident management and counterterrorism capabilities of the Federal Government. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Ens. Nick Haas/Released)

Petty Officer 2nd Class Richard Albert, a machinery technician with Coast Guard Maritime Safety and Security Team 91112, based in New Orleans, stands bow gunner duty during a security patrol with the Coast Guard Cutter Lawrence Lawson, homeported in Cape May, N.J., ahead of the 2021 Presidential Inauguration on the Potomac River, Washington, Jan. 16, 2021. On Sept. 24, 2018, the Department of Homeland Security designated the Presidential Inauguration as a recurring National Special Security Event. Events may be designated NSSEs when they warrant the full protection, incident management and counterterrorism capabilities of the Federal Government. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Ens. Nick Haas/Released)
 Petty Officer 3rd Class Maxwell Bradford, a machinery technician with Coast Guard Maritime Safety and Security Team 91112, based in New Orleans, conduct boat checks prior to getting underway for a security patrol ahead of the 2021 Presidential Inauguration, Washington, Jan. 16, 2021. On Sept. 24, 2018, the Department of Homeland Security designated the Presidential Inauguration as a recurring National Special Security Event. Events may be designated NSSEs when they warrant the full protection, incident management and counterterrorism capabilities of the Federal Government. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Ens. Nick Haas/Released)

Petty Officer 3rd Class Maxwell Bradford, a machinery technician with Coast Guard Maritime Safety and Security Team 91112, based in New Orleans, conduct boat checks prior to getting underway for a security patrol ahead of the 2021 Presidential Inauguration, Washington, Jan. 16, 2021. On Sept. 24, 2018, the Department of Homeland Security designated the Presidential Inauguration as a recurring National Special Security Event. Events may be designated NSSEs when they warrant the full protection, incident management and counterterrorism capabilities of the Federal Government. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Ens. Nick Haas/Released)

Crewmembers from Coast Guard Maritime Safety and Security Team 91112, based in New Orleans, and the Coast Guard Cutter Lawrence Lawson, homeported in Cape May, N.J., conduct a patrol ahead on the Potomac River, Washington, ahead of the 2021 Presidential Inauguration, Jan. 16, 2021. On Sept. 24, 2018, the Department of Homeland Security designated the Presidential Inauguration as a recurring National Special Security Event. Events may be designated NSSEs when they warrant the full protection, incident management and counterterrorism capabilities of the Federal Government. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Ens. Nick Haas/Released)

Crewmembers from Coast Guard Maritime Safety and Security Team 91112, based in New Orleans, and the Coast Guard Cutter Lawrence Lawson, homeported in Cape May, N.J., conduct a patrol ahead on the Potomac River, Washington, ahead of the 2021 Presidential Inauguration, Jan. 16, 2021. On Sept. 24, 2018, the Department of Homeland Security designated the Presidential Inauguration as a recurring National Special Security Event. Events may be designated NSSEs when they warrant the full protection, incident management and counterterrorism capabilities of the Federal Government. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Ens. Nick Haas/Released)

-USCG-

“Ice-Strengthened Ships For The U.S. Navy?” –Naval News

http://www.state.gov/e/oes/ocns/opa/arc/uschair/258202.htm . This map of the Arctic was created by State Department geographers as part of the U.S. Chairmanship of the Arctic Council.

Naval News reports, Chief of Naval Operations, Adm. Mike Gilday, answers the question, “..if any of the future-built U.S. Navy warships such as the Littoral Combat Ships, Arleigh Burke destroyers, or Littoral Combat Ships will have hardened and strengthened hulls for Arctic and icy-water Polar operations?”

And the answer was,

“I’m not there yet in terms of armored hulls or turning our [war]ships into icebreakers.”

I really don’t think anyone was suggesting we build DDGs on icebreaker hulls for the Navy, but if there is a need for an armed surface naval presence in the Arctic, it would be nice if Navy ships could at least survive there, if escorted by Coast Guard icebreakers. Certainly the icebreakers are to operate in the Arctic in wartime, they are going to need some protection.

The Navy is apparently still not convinced of the need. There are, of course, other assets the US has, that could take the fight into the Arctic, including aircraft and submarines. I still think the Fleet boundaries are poorly drawn to facilitate operations in the Arctic and the Bering Sea. Since it is still seen as primarily under the control of the Air Force (NorthCom), that may explain, to some extent, the lack of Navy interest.