We have a guest author, Peter Ong. He reports on the response to a question he asked during the Surface Navy Association 2020 virtual meeting. Peter forwarded a draft copy of this to PACAREA to confirm that they had no issues with the post and received an affirmative response.
PACIFIC OCEAN (May 3, 2020) U.S. Coast Guard Cutter, James (WSML 754), front, fleet replenishment oiler USNS Laramie (T-AO 203), middle, and U.S. Navy Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Pinckney (DDG 91) transit the Pacific Ocean during a vertical replenishment-at-sea May 3, 2020. James, Laramie and Pinckney are deployed to the U.S. Southern Command area of responsibility to support Joint Interagency Task Force South’s mission, which includes counter illicit drug trafficking in the Caribbean and Eastern Pacific. (U.S. Navy photo by Air Crewman (Helicopter) 2nd Class Aaron Malek)
In recent years, up-arming suggestions about changing and upgrading the weapons’ fit aboard United States Coast Guard Cutters (USCGC) have been increasing on certain naval, Coast Guard, and Defense blogs and websites, including Chuck Hill’s Coast Guard Blog. Posters and public commentators suggest that the 57mm Bofors cannons on the National Security Cutters and Offshore Patrol Cutters should be swapped out with a 76mm cannon and that lightweight torpedoes, Longbow Hellfire missiles, and long-range Anti-Ship missiles be installed to increase the range and firepower of the Cutters’ armaments. Since the USCG Cutters use U.S. Navy weapons, these up-arming ideas seem very plausible.
At the Surface Navy Association 2020 held virtually on August 27th due to the Coronavirus pandemic, Vice Admiral Linda Fagan, USCG, Pacific Command Theater, answered my question as to why the U.S. Coast Guard does not up-arm its large Cutters with guided smart missiles, torpedoes, missiles, larger caliber guns, and other more powerful and lethal weapons to counter peer nations and future threats.
“The Navy…they forward deploy; they Force Project; this is about lethality and National Defense,” VADM Fagan said over the screen. “The Coast Guard’s role as a Law Enforcement, regulatory, Maritime security agency is different. There is no intention to turn the Coast Guard into the [U.S.] Navy with that same lethality because there is that differentiation. The White-Hull, [the red] racing stripe, the Humanitarian ability to help nations increase [and to] protect their own sovereignty and enforce their own laws is the place where the Coast Guard brings the most value at and provides the most benefit. I think that the reaction might be different if the Coast Guard were to sort of look like the Navy combatant.”1
VADAM Fagan goes on to say that it is important for the USCG Cutters to seamlessly integrate with the U.S. Navy, RIMPAC, and NATO ships to share the same systems, communications, and sensors to maintain and generate a level of integration, Readiness, and interoperability as part of the U.S. National Fleet strategy. Ensuring that the White-Hull with red stripe is a symbol of the Humanitarian Mission is critical to the United States Coast Guard and complements with the U.S. Navy’s peers in the region.
Often, a USCG National Security Cutter that is deployed far overseas is escorted by a well-armed U.S. Navy AEGIS destroyer armed with long-range Anti-Ship, Anti-Air, and Anti-Submarine missiles and torpedoes through International Waters of contention. An example would be the USCGC Bertholf’s (WMSL-750) deployment to the Indo-Pacific region where the Bertholf linked with the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer, USS Curtis Wilbur (DDG-54), based in Yokosuka, Japan. Together, the two ships transited the roughly 110-mile wide Taiwan Strait in March 24-25, 2019 with the Curtis Wilbur riding armed shotgun.2
Is the weapons fit onboard these National Security Cutters (NSCs) and Offshore Patrol Cutters (OPCs) ironclad for the foreseeable future? For the present time, the U.S. Coast Guard is satisfied with keeping the current “gun and no missiles” weapons fit the same and exercising the White-Hull Humanitarian symbol of Search and Rescue and Maritime Law Enforcement wherever and whenever the large Coast Guard Cutters sail into far off seas.
1 Surface Navy Association 2020. Thursday, August 27th, 2020. 10:35 A.M. – 11:35 A.M. VADM Linda Fagan, USCG, Pacific Command. Virtual Streaming of Keynote Address.
2 Werner, Ben. USNI News. March 25, 2019. Referred from: https://news.usni.org/2019/03/25/42133