A New Coast Guard Base In the Western Pacific?

Estimated exclusive economic zones (EEZs) of Pacific Island countries and territories (PICTs). The EEZs of countries that are the Parties to the Nauru Agreement are shown in darker blue. Note that not all EEZs of PICTs have been officially delineated under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. Source: Patrick Lehodey

Recently there has been indicators that there may be more Coasties deployed to the Western Pacific, including perhaps a desire to replicate PATFORSWA somewhere in the Western Pacific in support of USINDOPACOM. There have also been suggestions that the Coast Guard should be based in Palau and in American Samoa

South and West of Hawaii, Why a New Base?

The US has a huge EEZ in the areas South and West of Hawaii. This area constitutes more than 29% of the entire US EEZ. By comparison the entire EEZ in Atlantic Area only constitutes a little over 16% of the total US EEZ. Despite the distortion of the map below, this Area is nearly as large as the US EEZ surrounding Alaska, and certainly larger than the parts of the Alaska EEZ we actually patrol with any regularity.

In the past this area has been given essentially only benign neglect, but things have changed. There has been the explosion of Illegal, Unregulated, and Unreported (IUU) fishing, primarily, but not exclusively by China. In addition to fishing in US waters, these activities undermine the economies of the three Pacific Island nations of the Compact of Free Association: the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM), the Republic of the Marshall Islands (RMI), and the Republic of Palau, to whom we have treaty obligations, as well as other Pacific Island nations including the Solomon Islands

Following on the heels of their fishing fleet, China seems to be seeking strategic basing in this area in the guise of loans and other forms of economic aid made necessary in part, at least, due to the devastation of local fishing. This has given rise to a general suspicion about Chinese intentions in the area.

Fortunately, the Coast Guard is generally seen as a welcomed partner in capacity building by many Pacific Island nations

In spite of the “tyranny of distance” in the Pacific, the only patrol assets we have in this area are three, relatively small Webber class patrol craft in Guam. There is not a single Coast Guard aircraft stationed in the area. In Guam a Navy helicopter squadron is used to provide SAR Response. From Guam, the nearest Coast Guard Airstation is 3440 nautical miles (6370 kM) away. It is over 2230 nmi (4129 kM) from Hawaii to American Samoa.

What Kind of Base?

Most of the talk has been about basing ships but there is also a need for supporting air reconnaissance. Air support might not require a full time Coast Guard Air Station, but a forward based rotating detachment might be appropriate. A mobile land based medium altitude long endurance unmanned air system might also serve us well. Even to base surface assets, we would need not only a port, but also a nearby airfield to provide access and support, so we will talk about airports. 

The Coast Guard is not going to want to spend a huge amount of money to create facilities where none currently exist, so there is probably no point in looking at locations that do not already have at least basic port or airport facilities. 

Since this is an attempt to help the local population, it makes sense to go where there is a local population. Happily, the people are where the sea and airports are.

These considerations limit the choices, eliminating places that might be good geographically, but don’t have even basic infrastructure. We are probably not going to establish a base on an uninhabited island. 

DOD is also interested in establishing additional bases to allow greater distribution of their assets, and we might ride their coattails. If the DOD base is on foreign soil, including a Coast Guard presence might be seen by the locals as sweetening the deal.

The Coast Guard would probably prefer to have the base on US territory, but if that were not to be the case, then proximity to currently under-served US territories, including uninhabited islands, would be a plus.

So Where?

As can be seen in the first chart, the area of the EEZs surrounding the various islands in the Pacific are very large. To give an idea of how large they are, I will use the area of the Atlantic Area EEZ (East Coast, Gulf Coast, Puerto Rico, and US Virgin Islands, 1,835,024 sq kilometers) as a benchmark. I will note percentage of Atlantic Area Exclusive Economic Zone (% AA EEZ)

US Territories

According to Wikipedia, the US has the following territory South and West of the Hawaiian Islands, their associated EEZ in square kilometers and EEZ size compared to that of Atlantic Area are in parenthesis: 

  • Northern Marianas Islands (749,268, 40.8% AA EEZ)
  • Johnston Atoll (442,635, 24.1% AA EEZ)
  • Howland and Baker Islands (434,921, 23.7% AAEEZ) 
  • Wake Island (407,241, 22.2% AA EEZ)
  • American Samoa (404,391, 22.0% AA EEZ)
  • Palmyra Atoll and Kingman Reef (352,300, 19.2% AA EEZ)
  • Jarvis Island (316,665, 17.3% AA EEZ)
  • Guam (221,504, 12.1% AA EEZ)

The total EEZ of these small islands is more than 81% greater that of the entire Atlantic Area EEZ. 

Pacific Remote IslandsBaker IslandHowland IslandJarvis IslandJohnston AtollKingman ReefPalmyra Atoll, and Wake Island are all included in the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument, managed by the US Fish and Wildlife service and NOAA. These islands extend 717 to 2,298 nautical miles South and West from Honolulu. None of these islands has a permanent resident population. 

Johnston Atoll does have an airport and pier space. Palmyra has only an unpaved airstrip left over from WWII. Wake Island is administered by the USAF and has a 9,800-foot (3,000 m) runway used for refueling and emergency landings, “The island’s only harbor between Wilkes and Wake is too narrow and shallow for sea-going vessels to enter.”

None of the “Pacific Remote Islands” sound promising. That leaves only

  • American Samoa (404,391)
  • Guam (221,504)
  • Northern Marianas Islands (749,268)

Guam: Guam is 6,126 kilometers or 3,308 nautical miles West of Honolulu. We already have a Coast Guard presence in Guam. It is homeport to a buoy tender and three Webber class WPCs. There is, however, no Coast Guard air station closer than Honolulu. A Navy Helicopter squadron provides SAR response. 

American Samoa: “American Samoa consists of five main islands and two coral atolls. The largest and most populous island is Tutuila.” It has 95% of the population of American Samoa, 56,000 inhabitants, and includes a large natural harbor and airport as part of the capital, Pago Pago. Pago Pago is 4,179 kilometers or 2,256 nautical miles South of Honolulu.

Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI): “The CNMI includes the 14 northernmost islands in the Mariana Archipelago; the southernmost island, Guam, is a separate U.S. territory.” Of the approximately 53,883 people living there (2010 census), about 47,565 (2017 estimate) live in Saipan. Recently it was announced that an expeditionary sea base, USS Miguel Keith (ESB 5), would be homeported in Saipan. This may offer an interesting option for collaboration in capacity building. Saipan is only 217 kilometers or 117 nautical miles from Guam, so what might have been potential base seems less likely; however, it does offer an alternative for replenishment while operating in the Northern Marianas. 

Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument. The previous (2011) boundaries of the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument are outlined in light blue.

Members of the Compacts of Free Association

Foreign Policy recently published a proposal for “After the Debacle: Six Concrete Steps to Restore U.S. Credibility.” The article claimed there was bipartisan support for each step. Perhaps surprisingly three of the proposed steps involved the Coast Guard. They included:

  •  Open embassies in the Pacific island nations of Kiribati, Nauru, Tonga, and Tuvalu and provide each with a Navy or Coast Guard attaché.
  • A permanent Coast Guard presence at Pago Pago in American Samoa.
  • Basing an icebreaker in Sydney or Hobart, Australia.

That does not constitute US policy but clearly there is pressure to put more Coast Guard West of Hawaii both to protect the huge US EEZ in the Western Pacific and to do capacity building and work with Pacific island nations, particularly those who are Compact of Free Association members (the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM), the Republic of the Marshall Islands (RMI), and the Republic of Palau).

U.S. Central Intelligence Agency – Federated States of Micronesia (Political) 1999 from Perry-Castañeda Library Map Collection: Federated States of Micronesia Maps

Federated States of Micronesia (FSM, 163.3% AA EEZ)

The Federated States of Micronesia (FSM) consist of “around 607 islands (a combined land area of approximately 702 km2 or 271 sq mi) that cover a longitudinal distance of almost 2,700 km (1,678 mi) just north of the equator.”

The island of Pohnpei is the most developed in the FSM and has a population of 36,832 (2020) out of a total population of 104,468 (2019 estimate). It includes the capital Palikir. It is 1635 kilometers / 883 nautical miles SE of Guam. The most Easterly FSM State, Kosrae, lies 2186 kilometers / 1180 nautical miles from Guam. 

The possibility of a Coast Guard base in the Federated States of Micronesia has gotten a bit more likely. According to MSN and the Pacific Island Times,

“The United States and the Federated States of Micronesia have agreed on a plan to build a military base in the Pacific Island nation, in line with the Pentagon’s strategic ambition to increase its footprint in the Indo-Pacific region and keep China at bay.”

In all probability the “base” will be a port and an airfield, both dual-purpose, used for both commercial and military purposes. I would not expect DOD ships or aircraft to be based there permanently. There probably will be a small cadre of support personnel.

Republic of the Marshall Islands (RMI, 108.5% AA EEZ)

The 2020 population was projected to be 59,190. Total land area is only 70.05 square miles. The capital is on the atoll of Majuro, population 27,797 (2011). Majuro’s airport is 2984 kilometers / 1611 nautical miles ESE of Guam’s, and 1443 kilometers / 779 nautical miles East of Pohnpei in the Federated States of Micronesia.

Sunset in Majuro, over Delap-Uliga-Darrit in the Marshall Islands from a drone. Jamison Logan photo.

At one point during WWII Majuro was the busiest port in the world. “Majuro Lagoon is…one of the busiest tuna transshipment ports in the world, with 306,796 tons of tuna being moved from purse seine vessels to carrier vessels in 2018.”

The U.S. fleet at Majuro Atoll in 1944. Visible (among many other ships) are three Independence-class light carriers, four Essex-class carriers, USS Enterprise (CV-6, right front), a South Dakota-class battleship, and two Iowa-class battleships. U.S. Navy photo 80-G-225251

Palau

Koror City is the largest city and its commercial center in Palau, home to about half of the country’s population, about 14,000 in the metropolitan area. It is served by an airport about four miles away. Koror, Palau is 704 nautical miles (1,304 kM) from Guam

Non-US, Non-Compact of Free Association Island Nations. 

There are eleven other small Island nations in the area.

  1. Kiribati (187.6% AA EEZ)
  2. Papua New Guinea (130.9% AA EEZ)
  3. Cook Islands (106.8% AA EEZ)
  4. Solomon Islands ((86.6% AA EEZ)
  5. Fiji (69.9% AA EEZ) 
  6. Tuvalu (40.9 % AA EEZ) 
  7. Vanuatu (36.1% AA EEZ) 
  8. Tonga (35.9% AA EEZ) 
  9. Niue (17.3% AA EEZ) 
  10. Nauru (16.8% AA EEZ) 
  11. Samoa (7.0% AA EEZ) 

These eleven have a combined EEZ more than 7.3 times that of the Atlantic Area EEZ. 

What I Think We Will Do

Putting two or three Webber class at Pago Pago appears likely. It would require we add to the currently planned and funded fleet of 64 Webber class FRCs. 

If the Navy does establish a base in the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM), then the Coast Guard might well provide a small support and advisory detachment to assist the local maritime authorities. Pohnpei, Federated States of Micronesia looks like it might be a good central location to operate Fixed Wing aircraft from. They have a 6,000 foot (1829 meter) runway

What We Should Do

If we have bases in Honolulu, Guam and American Samoa, they form the corners of a triangle that encloses most of the area of interest, but those bases are near the extremes. American Samoa is well South and East but it is at least surrounded by island nations. Guam is near the Western edge. Honolulu is in the Northeast corner. 

Another possible complementary, more central location is Manus Island, Papua New Guinea. Manus is 1,737.88 km (938 nautical miles) SSE of Guam. The population is reported to be 50,351 (2011). The US and Australia both see Manus as strategically significant

Current discussion seems to concentrate on where we might put additional cutters. This has gained a sense of urgency because we are at a decision point with regard to the Webber class FRC program and these little ships are seen as the likely assets to provide a Coast Guard presence in this underserved area. Will we let the program die at the currently planned 64 vessels or will we exercise all or part of an existing option for 12 more cutters that will expire in May 2023? 

This is prompted in part by the House Armed Services Committee’s report (H.Rept. 117-118 of September 10, 2021) on H.R. 4350 which states in part:

Given the successes of the U.S. Coast Guard’s Sentinel-class Fast Response Cutter in support of the Navy’s Fifth Fleet as a part of Patrol Forces Southwest Asia, the committee believes there are similar roles for Sentinel-class Fast Response Cutters in other areas of responsibility. Therefore, the committee directs the Secretary of the Navy to submit a report to the congressional defense committees not later than February 1, 2022, that details the current mission sets and operating requirements for the Sentinel-class Fast Response Cutter and expands on how successes in the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility would translate to other regions, including the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command. Further, the committee directs the Secretary of the Navy to assess the requisite upgrades to the Sentinel class Fast Response Cutter required to meet Navy standards and evaluate the concept of operations for employing these vessels in Southeast Asia. This report should be unclassified but may include a classified annex. (Page 21)

In addition to placing two or better yet three FRCs in American Samoa, it might be wise to also increase the number of FRC in Guam to emulate the success of PATFORSWA. This would allow two boats to be away from base almost continuously. This could allow significantly better coverage particularly in Palau and the Northern Marianas. 

Ideally these island nations should have their own enforcement mechanisms, capable of patrolling their own waters, but comprehensive coverage is probably beyond their means. It seems they all have some basic capabilities. We should complement rather than replace existing capability.  Local forces should be the point of the spear. To this end we can provide training and donate assets including perhaps excess 87 foot Marine Protector class patrol boats. 

Given the huge area, surface units are not enough. Satellites can help. but air surveillance is also required. The increased range of the “J” model C-130s will certainly help, but to provide any degree of persistence we will probably at least need to rotate crews and aircraft out of an advanced base. 

Our efforts should be coordinated with the already significant efforts of our allies Australia, New Zealand, and France, are doing in the area. 

The distances are great. The areas of concern are huge. The Coast Guard, our allies, and the Island nations themselves don’t have enough assets to patrol these waters effectively. In addition to patrol vessels and aircraft we need better Maritime Domain Awareness including use of satellites and artificial intelligence to cue the limited enforcement assets. 

A cooperative multi-national law enforcement intelligence exchange might be the most important addition we could make. 

“The Long Blue Line: Charleston—over 230 years of Coast Guard service and growth in South Carolina!” –MyCG

Coast Guard Base Charleston. The Base is moving from this location to the former Charleston Navy Base

MyCG has another in the Long Blue Line series, The Long Blue Line: Charleston—over 230 years of Coast Guard service and growth in South Carolina!

I have added it to my Heritage Page, but there was an interesting note in the next to last paragraph discussing the recent past and future of Base Charleston,

“In October 2015, the North Charleston cutter base was officially commissioned as Coast Guard Base Charleston with new National Security Cutters Hamilton and James replacing the old Gallatin and Dallas. The recently commissioned National Security Cutter Stone has joined its two sister cutters and future plans see the facility becoming a “super base” supporting two more NSCs, as well as units of the new medium-endurance class of Offshore Patrol Cutters and, possibly, one or two new Polar Security Cutters.” (Emphasis applied–Chuck)

We have begun to see indications of an intent to base icebreakers on the Atlantic side, but I had assumed these would be the Medium Icebreakers (Arctic Security Cutters). This may reflect an anticipation the Coast Guard will have more than three Polar Security Cutters.

When you realize that, in relationship to the Eastern Pacific Drug Transit Zone, Charleston is about 1,000 nautical miles closer than San Diego and about 1,400 nautical miles closer than Alameda, you can understand why the Coast Guard decided to base five Bertholf class NSCs there. Its why 4th Fleet, which is responsible for all of South America is an Atlantic Fleet Command.  Add to that the lower cost of living and it makes a lot of sense.

The U.S. Coast Guard Cutter James arrives at its new homeport of Charleston, S.C. Aug. 28, 2015. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Melissa Leake)

“US to base Coast Guard ships in western Pacific to tackle China” –Aljazeera

United States Exclusive Economic Zone – Pacific centered NOAA map

Aljazeera reports that,

The US Coast Guard was “strategically homeporting significantly enhanced Fast Response Cutters … in the western Pacific,” White House National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien said in a statement.

What does that mean? Is this just a reference to the three Webber class WPCs that will be homeported in Guam? Or will we see a replication of PATFORSWA in the Western Pacific? Does “significantly enhanced” mean these FRCs will have improvements to sensors, communications, and/or weapons, or does it just mean they will be better than the two 110 foot WPBs they are replacing?

There is also this interesting tidbit,

O’Brien added that the Coast Guard, which is under the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), was also studying whether to permanently station several of its patrol ships in the area of American Samoa in the South Pacific.

Thanks to Walter for bringing this to my attention. 

A Reevaluation, Ruminating on Homeports While Playing the Red Cell, Part 2

This is the second part of a reexamination of where critical ports are in the US and where the cutters that might be needed to protect them are homeported.

Consolidated Target and Homeport List:

I have reproduced this listing from part 1. It has been changed slightly to reflect the move of USCGC Seneca from Boston to Portsmouth, VA. Again, we have 31 target ports or port complexes in bold  and 23 current or planned cutter homeports with the cutters in bold. In many cases a critical port is also a homeport for cutter(s).

CCGD1:

  • Bath, Me–Major Naval shipbuilder
  • Kittery, ME/Portsmouth, NH –Naval Shipyard: 2×270 (908, 909)
  • Boston, MA: 2×270 (905, 907)
  • Newport, RI Plan to add 2xOPC (919, 920)
  • Groton, CT–Submarine base
  • Hudson River complex, New York, NY/Elizabeth and Bayonne, NJ–a major cultural target, #3 US Port by tonnage, #3 Container port, #4 Cruise ship port (NYC) and #13 cruise ship port (Cape Liberty, NJ)

CCGD5:

  • Delaware Bay/River Complex–Strategic Seaport (Philadelphia), Wilmington DE/Cape May, NJ: 3xFRC (1119, 1120, 1135)
  • Chesapeake Bay Complex, VA–Base for aircraft carriers and submarines, Major naval shipbuilder, Strategic Port, #9 port by tonnage, #5 container port; plus water route to Washington, DC (major cultural target) and Baltimore, MD–#14 port by tonnage, #13 container port, #12 cruise ship port/ 7×270 (Portsmouth 901, 902, 903, 904, 906, 911, 912), 2×210 (Little Creek 626, 627)
  • Morehead City, NC–Strategic Seaport/Atlantic Beach, NC: 2xFRC (1127, 1128)
  • Cape Fear River–Strategic Seaport, Wilmington, NC

CCGD7:

  • Charleston, SC–#7 container port, #15 cruise ship port, Strategic Seaport/ 2xNSC (753, 754) Plan to add 3xNSC (758, 759, 760)
  • Savannah, GA–#4 container port, Strategic Seaport
  • Jacksonville complex, FL (including Kings Bay, GA)–SSBNs, Navy Base Mayport, #14 cruise ship port, Strategic Seaport/ Mayport, FL: 1×210 (617)
  • Port Canaveral, FL–#3 Cruise Ship port/ Cape Canaveral, FL: 2×210 (619, 621)
  • Port Everglades/Fort Lauderdale, FL–#11 container port, #2 Cruise Ship port
  • Miami, FL–#12 container port, #1 Cruise Ship port/ 6xFRC (1101 to 1106)
  • Key West, FL: 2×270 (910, 913), 6xFRC (1107 to 1112)
  • San Juan, PR–#5 Cruise Ship port, #15 container port/ 7xFRC (1113 to 1118, 1133)
  • Tampa, FL–#7 Cruise Ship port/
  • St. Petersburg, FL: 2×210 (620, 625)

CCGD8

  • Pensacola, FL–4×210 (615, 616, 624, 629)
  • Mobile, AL–major naval shipbuilder, #11 port by tonnage
  • Pascagoula, MS–major naval shipbuilder/ 2xFRC (1123, 1125)
  • Gulfport, MS–Strategic Seaport
  • Mississippi River Complex, LA–New Orleans #6 port by tonnage, #14 container port, +#10 Cruise Ship port; South Louisiana #1 port by tonnage; Baton Rouge #8 port by tonnage; Port of Plaquemines #13 port by tonnage.
  • Lake Charles, LA–#12 port by tonnage
  • Sabine Pass complex (Beaumont/Port Author/Orange, TX)–#4 port by tonnage (Beaumont), Strategic Seaport (both Beaumont and Port Author), It also has an LNG exporting terminal
  • Houston/Galveston/Texas City, TX–#2 port by tonnage (Houston),  #13 port by tonnage (Texas City), #5 container port (Houston), #6 Cruise ship port (Galveston)/Galveston, TX: 3xFRC (1136, 1137, 1138)
  • Corpus Christi, TX–#7 port by tonnage, Strategic Seaport

CCGD11:

  • San Diego, CA–Base for aircraft carriers and submarines, major naval shipbuilder (NASSCO), Strategic Seaport
  • Los Angeles/Long Beach/Port Hueneme, CA–A major cultural target, #5 port by tonnage (Long Beach), #9 port by tonnage (Los Angeles), #1 container port (Los Angeles), #3 container port (Long Beach), #9 cruise Ship port (Long Beach), #11 cruise ship port (Los Angeles), Strategic Seaport (Long Beach and Port Hueneme)/San Pedro: 4xFRC (1129 to 1132) Plan to add 2xOPC (915, 916)
  • San Francisco Bay complex,, CA–A major cultural target, #6 container port (Oakland), Strategic Seaport (Oakland and Concord)/Alameda, CA: 4xNSC (750, 751, 752, 755)

CCGD13:

  • Warrenton, OR: 2×210 Plan to add two FRCs (Longview, WA is a significant port, but it is 66 miles up the Columbia River, so unlikely to be a target)
  • Puget Sound Complex, Seattle/Tacoma, WA–Base for aircraft carriers (Bremerton), SSBNs (Bangor), and submarines, major naval bases, #8 container port (Seattle), #10 container port (Tacoma), #8 Cruise ship port (Seattle), Strategic Seaport (Indian Island and Tacoma, WA)/Port Angeles, WA: 1×210

CCGD14:

  • Honolulu/Pearl Harbor, HI–Major Naval base, including submarines/2xNSC (756, 757), 3xFRC (1124, 1126, 1134)
  • Apra, Guam–Submarine Base, Strategic Seaport/ Plan to add 3xFRC (1139, 1140, 1143)

CCGD17:

  • Ketchikan, AK: 2xFRC (1121, 1122)
  • Kodiak, AK: 1xWHEC, 1×282 WMEC Plan to add 2xOPC (917, 918)
  • Planned to be based in Alaska, ports have not been identified 4xFRC
  • Anchorage, AK–Strategic Seaport

The Present and Future Coast Guard Fleet: 

Bertholf class National Security Cutters: 

These ships are only based in three ports, all three of these are potential target ports.

  • Charleston, SC two NSCs now, three additional planned
  • San Francisco Bay Complex, CA, four NSCs
  • Honolulu, HI, two NSCs

That might suggest that these ports are well protected, but as I have said, these ships don’t spend any time on standby, and when they are in port they are usually down hard.

Honolulu is also a Naval bases and has three Webber class WPCs assigned, so it is about as well protected as any port could be with our current equipment.

The Webber class WPCs:

As I have noted, currently the Webber class are potentially the most important asset for port protection.

Of the 31 potential target ports, these nine have, or we know will have, two or more Webber class cutters assigned.

  • Delaware Bay/River Complex–Strategic Seaport (Philadelphia), Wilmington DE/Cape May, NJ: 3xFRC (1119, 1120, 1135)
  • Morehead City, NC–Strategic Seaport/Atlantic Beach, NC: 2xFRC (1127, 1128)
  • Miami, FL–#12 container port, #1 Cruise Ship port/ 6xFRC (1101 to 1106)
  • San Juan, PR–#5 Cruise Ship port, #15 container port/ 7xFRC (1113 to 1118, 1133)
  • Pascagoula, MS–major naval shipbuilder/ 2xFRC (1123, 1125)
  • Houston/Galveston/Texas City, TX–#2 port by tonnage (Houston),  #13 port by tonnage (Texas City), #5 container port (Houston), #6 Cruise ship port (Galveston)/Galveston, TX: 3xFRC (1136, 1137, 1138)
  • Los Angeles/Long Beach/Port Hueneme, CA–A major cultural target, #5 port by tonnage (Long Beach), #9 port by tonnage (Los Angeles), #1 container port (Los Angeles), #3 container port (Long Beach), #9 cruise Ship port (Long Beach), #11 cruise ship port (Los Angeles), Strategic Seaport (Long Beach and Port Hueneme)/San Pedro: 4xFRC (1129 to 1132) Plan to add 2xOPC (915, 916)
  • Honolulu/Pearl Harbor, HI–Major Naval base, including submarines/2xNSC (756, 757), 3xFRC (1124, 1126, 1134)
  • Apra, Guam–Submarine Base, Strategic Seaport/Plan to add 3xFRC (1139, 1140, 1143)

With four additional FRCs going to Alaska, I have to assume Anchorage, AK will be protected. Its geography protects it to a great extent. It is far up Cook Inlet. Kodiak’s position South of Cook Inlet pushes the US EEZ out, so it is much further than 200 miles from the edge of the EEZ to Anchorage. Homer, at the mouth of Cook Inlet, has been an Island class WPB in the past and may be a Webber class homeport in the future.

These seven potential target ports have, or we know will have, two or more Webber class cutters homeported within 100 nautical miles, offering some degree of protection.

  • Cape Fear River–Strategic Seaport, Wilmington, NC (WPCs from Atlantic Beach)
  • Port Everglades/Fort Lauderdale, FL–#11 container port, #2 Cruise Ship port (WPCs from Miami)
  • Mobile, AL–major naval shipbuilder, #11 port by tonnage (WPCs for Pascagoula)
  • Gulfport, MS–Strategic Seaport (WPCs for Pascagoula)
  • Lake Charles, LA–#12 port by tonnage (WPCs from Galveston)
  • Sabine Pass complex (Beaumont/Port Author/Orange, TX)–#4 port by tonnage (Beaumont), Strategic Seaport (both Beaumont and Port Author), It also has an LNG exporting terminal (WPCs from Galveston)
  • San Diego, CA–Base for aircraft carriers and submarines, major naval shipbuilder (NASSCO), Strategic Seaport (WPCs from San Pedro)

The following 14 potential target ports have no Webber class WPCs assigned or currently planned to be based within 100 nautical miles:

  • Bath, ME, –Major Naval shipbuilder
  • Kittery, ME/Portsmouth, NH–Naval Shipyard, currently homeport 2×270(908, 909)
  • Groton, CT–Submarine base
  • Hudson River complex, New York, NY/Elizabeth and Bayonne, NJ–a major cultural target, #3 US Port by tonnage, #3 Container port, #4 Cruise ship port (NYC) and #13 cruise ship port (Cape Liberty, NJ)
  • Chesapeake Bay Complex, VA–Base for aircraft carriers and submarines, Major naval shipbuilder, Strategic Port, #9 port by tonnage, #5 container port; plus water route to Washington, DC (major cultural target) and Baltimore, MD–#14 port by tonnage, #13 container port, #12 cruise ship port/7×270 (Portsmouth 901, 902, 903,904, 906, 911, 912), 2×210 (Little Creek 626, 627)
  • Charleston, SC–#7 container port, #15 cruise ship port, Strategic Seaport/ 2xNSC (753, 754) Plan to add 3xNSC (758, 759, 760)
  • Savannah, GA-#4 container port, Strategic Seaport
  • Jacksonville complex, FL (including Kings Bay, GA)–SSBNs, Navy Base Mayport, #14 cruise ship port, Strategic Seaport/ Mayport, FL currently homeport for 1×210 (617)
  • Port Canaveral, FL–#3 Cruise Ship port/ Cape Canaveral, FL: 2×210 (619, 621)
  • Tampa, FL–#7 Cruise Ship port/
  • Mississippi River Complex, LA–New Orleans #6 port by tonnage, #14 container port, +#10 Cruise Ship port; South Louisiana #1 port by tonnage; Baton Rouge #8 port by tonnage; Port of Plaquemines #13 port by tonnage.
  • Corpus Christi, TX#7 port by tonnage, Strategic Seaport
  • San Francisco Bay complex,, CA–A major cultural target, #6 container port (Oakland), Strategic Seaport (Oakland and Concord)/Alameda, CA: 4xNSC (750, 751, 752, 755)
  • Puget Sound Complex, Seattle/Tacoma, WA–Base for aircraft carriers (Bremerton), SSBNs (Bangor), and submarines, major naval bases, #8 container port (Seattle), #10 container port (Tacoma), #8 Cruise ship port (Seattle), Strategic Seaport (Indian Island and Tacoma, WA)/Port Angeles, WA: 1×210

Most likely future Webber Class Homeports: 47 of the planned 64 Webber class cutters have already been paired with their homeports as noted above (including six to go to Bahrain). Of the 17 remaining we know two will go to Astoria OR, and four will go to Alaska.  That leaves eleven to potentially protect other ports. Grouped two or three to a port, that means we will have no more than four or five additional Webber class homeports. In my view, the most likely additional ports are:

  • Kittery, ME/Portsmouth, NH (also within 100 nmi of Boston and Bath, ME)
  • New London, CT (to protect sub base at Groton, CT might also protect the Long Island Sound approaches to Hudson River complex, New York, NY/Elizabeth and Bayonne, NJ)
  • Corpus Christi, TX–#7 port by tonnage, Strategic Seaport
  • San Francisco Bay complex,, CA–A major cultural target, #6 container port (Oakland), Strategic Seaport (Oakland and Concord)/Alameda, CA: 4xNSC (750, 751, 752, 755)
  • Puget Sound Complex, Seattle/Tacoma, WA–Base for aircraft carriers (Bremerton), SSBNs (Bangor), and submarines, major naval bases, #8 container port (Seattle), #10 container port (Tacoma), #8 Cruise ship port (Seattle), Strategic Seaport (Indian Island and Tacoma, WA)/Seattle, WA: 1xWHEC, Port Angeles, WA: 1×210

Where we are naked: Potential target ports that likely will not have a Webber class within 100 nmiles:

  • Hudson River complex, New York, NY/Elizabeth and Bayonne, NJ)
  • Chesapeake Bay Complex, VA–Base for aircraft carriers and submarines, Major naval shipbuilder, Strategic Port, #9 port by tonnage, #5 container port; plus water route to Washington, DC (major cultural target) and Baltimore, MD–#14 port by tonnage, #13 container port, #12 cruise ship port/6×270 (Portsmouth 901, 902, 903,904, 911, 912), 2×210 (Little Creek 626, 627)
  • Charleston, SC–#7 container port, #15 cruise ship port, Strategic Seaport/ 2xNSC (753, 754) Plan to add 3xNSC (758, 759, 760)
  • Savannah, GA-#4 container port, Strategic Seaport
  • Jacksonville complex, FL (including Kings Bay, GA)–SSBNs, Navy Base Mayport, #14 cruise ship port, Strategic Seaport/ Mayport, FL currently homeport for 1×210 (617)
  • Port Canaveral, FL–#3 Cruise Ship port/ Cape Canaveral, FL currently homeport for 2×210 (619, 621)
  • Tampa, FL–#7 Cruise Ship port/ St. Petersburg, FL currently homeport for 2×210 (620, 625)

The Hudson River Complex is protected to some extent by geography, given the length of its approaches. WPCs at Cape May and New London would provide a degree of protection though both are a bit more than 100 nmi away.

The strong Navy presence in the Chesapeake Bay Complex, VA should provide a degree of protection. 

7th District has 8 of the 31 critical ports and 19 of the 58 Webber class homeported in the US (I understand they will get a 20th), but all are in three ports, Miami, San Juan, and Key West, which is not a critical port. Five ports have no Webber class within 100 nautical miles.

  • Charleston, SC–#7 container port, #15 cruise ship port, Strategic Seaport/ 2xNSC (753, 754) Plan to add 3xNSC (758, 759, 760)
  • Savannah, GA-#4 container port, Strategic Seaport
  • Jacksonville complex, FL (including Kings Bay, GA)–SSBNs, Navy Base Mayport, #14 cruise ship port, Strategic Seaport/ Mayport, FL currently homeport for 1×210 (617)
  • Port Canaveral, FL–#3 Cruise Ship port/ Cape Canaveral, FL currently homeport for 2×210 (619, 621)
  • Tampa, FL–#7 Cruise Ship port/ St. Petersburg, FL currently homeport for 2×210 (620, 625)

There are of course other considerations, but from the perspective of protecting ports we would be much better off redistributing all but three WPCs in Miami and three in San Juan to Charleston (which would also provide a degree of protection for Savannah), Jacksonville, Port Canaveral, and Tampa/St Pete. This would leave Key West without WPCs, but it does look like a good place for OPCs.

We would also have no Webber class within 100 miles of the Mississippi River Complex.

  • Mississippi River Complex, LA–New Orleans #6 port by tonnage, #14 container port, +#10 Cruise Ship port; South Louisiana #1 port by tonnage; Baton Rouge #8 port by tonnage; Port of Plaquemines #13 port by tonnage.

Fortunately it is protected to some extent by the long and relatively difficult passage up the Mississippi River before these ports can be reached. You are not likely to make it up the Mississippi with a ship without getting a pilot. Also Webber class at Pascagoula are only a little over 100 nautical miles from the mouth of the Mississippi.

HECs and MECs and OPCs, Oh My:

There are currently 29 WHECs/WMECs. They are to be replaced by 25 Offshore Patrol Cutters (OPCs). Because of the nature of their operations and scheduling, they are unlikely to respond to a threat from their homeport, but they may be employed locally off shore for fisheries, drug, or Alien Migrant enforcement. Where will they be based?

We could say 25 ships divided among eight districts means three ships in seven districts and four in one. That might not be a bad way to start, but in all likelihood the OPCs will be distributed much as the one remaining WHEC and 28 WMECs are now, but some changes are likely because of tendencies observed of late.

  • There will be a tendency to base in groups, so at least two and preferably three or more will be based together.
  • There will be a tendency to move closer to the drug transit zones in order to shorten transit.
  • There may also be a tendency to put some additional emphasis on the Western Pacific.

Breaking it down by district even though they are Area assets, I will note how many in the district and what percentage of the current WHEC/WMEC fleet that constitutes.

CCGD1: 4 or 13.8%

  • Kittery, ME/Portsmouth, NH 2×270(908, 909)
  • Boston, MA: 2×270 (905, 907)
  • (Newport, RI Plan to add 2xOPC (919, 920))

CCGD5: 9 or 31%

  • Chesapeake Bay Complex, VA 7×270 (Portsmouth 901, 902, 903, 904, 906, 911, 912), 2×210 (Little Creek 626, 627)

CCGD7: 7 or 24.1%

  • Jacksonville complex, FL  Mayport, FL: 1×210 (617)
  • Port Canaveral, FL–#3 Cruise Ship port/ Cape Canaveral, FL: 2×210 (619, 621)
  • Key West, FL: 2×270 (910, 913)
  • Tampa/St. Petersburg, FL: 2×210 (620, 625)

CCGD8: 4 or 13.8%

  • Pensacola, FL– 4×210 (615, 616, 624, 629)

CCGD13: 3 or 10.3%

  • Warrenton, OR: 2×210
  • Puget Sound Complex, Seattle/Tacoma, WA Port Angeles, WA: 1×210

CCGD17: 2 or 6.9%

  • Kodiak, AK: 1xWHEC, 1×282 WMEC (Planned homeport for 2xOPC (917, 918))

If we distributed the 25 OPCs in the same proportion we would have:

  • D1: 3
  • D5: 8
  • D7: 6
  • D8: 3
  • D11: 0
  • D13: 3
  • D14: 0
  • D17: 2

But we already know that two OPCs will be based in San Pedro, they probably represent a movement Southward from D13, and there is a good possibility they will be joined by a third OPC.

In the same vain I think we will see one or two fewer OPCs in D5. They might go to D7, but there is also a possibility they could go to PAC Area.

This is what I think we will ultimately see, with destination of three OPCs much less certain. Possible locations for these three are in parenthesis. It is going to be a very long time (Late 2030s) before we see the last three, so much can change.

  • D1: 3 (we already know two are going to Newport, RI. Probably the third as well.)
  • D5: 6 (presumably all in Portsmouth)
  • D7: 6 (+1 or 2) (Most likely in Key West and St. Petersburg, possibly Mayport or Charleston)
  • D8: 3 (presumably in Pensacola)
  • D11: 2 (+1) (We already know two are going to San Pedro, CA. Probably a third as well)
  • D13: 0 (+2) (If it happens, Port Angeles, WA)
  • D14: 0 (+2) (Honolulu)
  • D17: 2 (+1) (We already know two are going to Kodiak. A third is less likely here.)

Historically the Coast Guard has based two thirds of its large cutters in Atlantic Area and one third in the Pacific Area. If that were to be the case, PAC Area should get six OPCs in addition to the six NSCs they have now, and LANT Area should have 19 OPCs in addition to the five NSCs currently planned.

If you look at the distribution of the US EEZ, I think there is a strong case for more ships in the Pacific.

  • Total US EEZ: 11,351,000 km2
  • East Coast EEZ: 915,763 km2
  • Gulf Coast EEZ: 707,832 km2
  • Puerto Rico EEZ: 177,685 km2
  • Total LANT Area EEZ: 1,801,280 km2 15.9%
  • Total PAC Area EEZ: 9,549,720 km 84.1%

With the increased emphasis on IUU and capacity building in the Western Pacific, we may see up to eight OPCs going to PAC AREA.

Alternative Mission Set:

PAC Area has been very aggressive in the use of their resources for drug interdiction, sending FRCs down to the Eastern Pacific transit zones off Central and South America, but PAC AREA could have more cutter time for operations in the Western Pacific, without adding cutters, if LANT AREA took full responsibility for the Eastern Pacific drug interdiction effort. There are good reasons, that might be desirable.

  • East Coast ships, particularly those based in the South East, are generally closer to the drug transit zone than PAC Area ships.
  • Forth Fleet is the Naval component commander for SOUTHCOM. Fourth Fleet is part of LANT Fleet and is headquartered in Mayport, Jacksonville, FL.  SOUTHCOM is located in Doral, FL, part of greater Miami.
  • LANT AREA is the Coast Guard counterpart of LANT Fleet and so should be the primary point of contact between Navy and Coast Guard for the Eastern Pacific drug transit zone.

US Navy Fleet Organization

The Missing Class–Response Boat, Large–the WPB replacement:

All along, I have been saying our cutter are not adequately armed to have a high probability of being able to stop a terrorist controlled vessel. Currently the Webber class WPCs seem to be the most likely craft to be in a position to take on that role, but in many scenarios they simply would not be up to the task. In addition we know that about half the critical ports or port complexes will have no Webber class homeported there so that they might respond most rapidly in the case of an attack.

We still need to replace the 87 foot Marine Protector class WPBs. As we have discussed here and here, properly equipped, a vessel half the size of the Webber class could take on this job.

There were 74 Marine Protector class built. Wikipedia indicates there are 73 currently active and we know there is a proposal to decommission eight in the belief that their missions will be performed by Webber class and response boat, mediums. That would still leave 65.

Assuming we put two WPB replacements in position to protect each of the 31 critical ports, so that we could always have one either on standby or underway near by, it would only require 62. It the Webber class were better armed, and we only needed to protect those critical ports with no Webber class homported there, we would need no more than 34. If we also redistributed the D7 Webber class as suggested we would need only 26.

Basing for Larger Patrol Cutters

W B Young asked,

“I was wondering if they are going to base these two WMSM in R.I., what base/homeport is losing ships to make up for this? What with 25 tentative WMSM replacing 28 current WMEC some homeport(s) were already going to be losing a currently based ship{s}”

Trying to answer this turned out to be a bit more than I wanted to put in just a comment. I am going to look at homeports for the larger patrol cutters, WHECs, WMECs, OPCs, and NSCs, breaking it down by district, as we move toward 36 large patrol cutters (11 NSCs and 25 OPCs).

Keep in mind these changes will not happen quickly. First OPC is not expected to be delivered until 2022 and then only one per year through 2028. Then only two per year, so we are looking at #25 arriving in 2037.

TRENDS:

There are some trends that seem to be playing out here:

  • Fisheries, Alien Migrant interdiction, and D7 drug interdiction are increasingly being done by Webber class WPCs.
  • Ships of a class are increasingly being based in groups of three or more for better support.
  • 210s are being moved South where they are closer to the Caribbean and Eastern Pacific drug interdiction areas and where the weather is less demanding.

LOOKING BACK: 

When I looked at homeports in 2015:

  • There were six large cutters in CGD1, three in Portsmouth, NH/Kittery, ME (two 270s and one 210) and three 270s in Boston.
  • There were nine in D5, six 270s and three 210s.
  • Nine in D7, two NSCs, two 270s, and five 210s.
  • D8, two 210s
  • A total of 26 in LANTAREA
  • In PACAREA, 14 total, three NSCs, seven 378s, one 282, and three 210s (That is really 11 “high endurance cutters” (NSCs, 378s, and Alex Hailey, rated a WMEC but really an HEC) and three 210s).

WHAT WE HAVE NOW

Currently we have 38 large patrol ships, already down two:

  • D1, five 270s
  • D5, Total of eight, six 270s and two 210s
  • D7, no change, Total of nine, two NSCs, two 270s, and five 210s
  • D8, Four 210s
  • LANTAREA total 26
  • PACAREA total twelve, six NSCs, two 378, one 282, three 210s

The LANT total has not changed, but D1 and D5 have each donated a 210 to D8.

PACAREA is down two ships. One from D11 and one from D13.

What we know about the future:

The last two 378s, both in PACAREA, will not last much longer.

Three more Bertholf class NSCs are going to be based in D7 at Charleston. As unlikely as it may seem, this is actually closer to the Eastern Pacific drug transit zone than San Diego.

The First two OPCs will go to San Pedro. The second pair will go to Kodiak. The third pair will go to D1 in Newport, RI.

What will happen to Alex Haley when the two OPCs arrive in Kodiak is not clear, but there is a good chance it has more life in it than many of the 210s. It is newer and more capable than any of them. In many ways it is close to a SLEPed 270. Hopefully it will be kept on.

Six 270s will undergo life extension program renovations. My presumptions are that,

  • These will probably last about a year, but hopefully less for later ship after we acquire some experience.
  • We will do only one at a time,
  • That the crew that brings it to be renovated will be reassigned, and
  • That a new crew will be assigned, much as if it were new construction.
  • After renovation it is likely that the ship will be assigned to a new homeport.

These renovations will need to start relatively soon. We need to complete the project by 2027, if we are going to get at least 10 years service out of all six before the 25th OPC is completed in 2037. (Wonder if perhaps we can install more powerful engines to get a bit more speed.)

The four OPCs going to PACAREA are really replacing four WHECs not WMECs. There used to be 10 WHECs on the West coast. When the two Webber class currently planned to be homeported in Astoria arrive, they may effectively start to replace the West Coast 210s in PACAREA.

PURE SPECULATION: 

This is what I think we will see, as all the WHECs and WMECs disappear and we are left with eleven NSCs and 25 OPCs.

We will certainly see homeport changes as the healthier ships are moved to ports vacated by those being decommissioned.

As their SLEPs are completed, 270s will replace 210s in D7 and/or D8. Those 210 will then be decommissioned or moved to replace other 210s that are decommissioned. Will be interesting to see if we simply decommission a 210 whenever an OPC is commissioned, or will we do a sequence for the first few ships, commission an OPC, but wait until a 270 completes SLEP before decommissioning a 210. It would be a way to maximize cutter days. The SLEP is going to cost us some ship years.

First District will end up with four OPCs. All probably in Newport, RI. Boston and Kittery will probably loose all their large patrol cutters.

Fifth District will end up with six OPCs. All homeported close together in Virginia, in one or two locations.

Seventh District will, we know, have five NSCs in Charleston, I suspect five OPCs for a total of 10 ships. Currently D7 has large patrol cutters based in five ports: Charleston, Mayport, Cape Canaveral, Key West, and St. Petersburg. Likely only two or three will continue to host this class of ship. Charleston is a certainty. My guess is that Mayport and Cape Canaveral will loose their patrol Cutters. Key West and possibly St. Petersburg (less likely) will have OPCs. Charleston could host OPCs as well, which would probably mean none in St Pete.

The Eight District will have four OPCs, probably all in Pensacola.

The number of large cutters in PACAREA will soon drop to 10 but will ultimately work back to 12, a total of six NSCs and six OPCs. Where do those last two OPCs go? Best guess–to San Pedro for a total of four, but it could be two to San Diego (still close to San Pedro) or one each to San Pedro and Kodiak.

Eleventh District will end up eight, four NSCs and four OPCs.

Thirteenth District will end up with no large patrol cutters, but will host three Polar Security Cutters. Could be wrong. Those last two PACAREA OPCs could end up in D13.

Fourteenth District will have two NSCs.

Seventeenth District will have two OPCs.

Readers with rationale why my suppositions are wrong, please weigh in.

The crew of USCGC Kimball (WMSL 756) arrive in Honolulu for the first time Dec. 22, 2018. Known as the Legend-class, NSCs are designed to be the flagships of the Coast Guard’s fleet, capable of executing the most challenging national security missions, including support to U.S. combatant commanders. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Chief Petty Officer Sara Muir/Released)