“Top US Commander Warns ‘Front Line’ With China Now South of Border” –Voice of America

Voice of America reports remarks by SOUTHCOM Commander, Admiral Craig Faller, regarding the growth of Chinese influence in the Western Hemisphere, including criminal activity and Illegal, Unreported, and Unregulated fishing.

This isn’t new. Through contributing author, Sanjay Badri-Maharaj (here and here),I have been following what has been happening in Trinidad and Tobago. I am sure similar interaction is happening elsewhere in the Western Hemisphere. Here is some background:

China’s Growing Influence in the Caribbean | Manohar Parrikar Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (idsa.in)

China, Trinidad and Tobago pledge to consolidate friendship – CGTN

PM and Chinese President Xi Jinping engage in bilateral talks | Loop News (looptt.com)

“US Navy helicopters and Coast Guard snipers are firing on suspected drug traffickers ‘daily,’ top admiral says” –Business Insider

Petty Officer 2nd Class Anthony Phillips, a precision marksman at Helicopter Interdiction Tactical Squadron, displays the weaponry used by a HITRON during missions, February 23, 2010. US Coast Guard/Petty Officer 1st Class Bobby Nash

Business Insider has a story touting the success of the Navy/Coast Guard team effort in drug interdiction. This seems to be a report on Adm. Craig Faller’s (SOUTHCOM) remarks at the Surface Navy Association symposium in mid-January.

There is strong praise for the HITRON personnel.

“Coast Guard HITRON teams, which are sniper teams, have integrated into US Navy helicopters. So our Navy crews are involved in decisions to use … warning shots and disabling fire daily. I mean, it is a daily event,” Faller added. “We average numbers, sometimes large numbers, of events daily, and they’ve done it safely, effectively, completely in compliance with all the law of war and with precision. [I’m] very proud of that.”

I have to believe the “daily” claim is at least a slight exaggeration, since presumably HITRON was involved in all the cases and the report quotes Cmdr. Ace Castle, public affairs officer for US Coast Guard Atlantic Area, as saying they prosecuted 56 in 2020.

In any case, HITRON is getting a workout and proving their value. Worth noting that they and other Coast Guard law enforcement detachments, also serve on foreign ships working for SouthCom, including British, Canadian, Dutch, and French vessels.

Freedom of Navigation off Venezuela

Orthographic map of Venezuela centered on Caracas
Controlled territory in dark green.
Claimed territory in light green.
From Wikipedia, Author: Addicted04

Perhaps significantly for the Coast Guard’s drug interdiction efforts in the Caribbean, Navy Times is reporting that the Navy has been conducting Freedom of Navigation Operations off the Venezuelan coast in response to excessive claims not in accordance with the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).

A command official said the mission was undertaken “to challenge Venezuela’s excessive maritime claim of security jurisdiction from 12 to 15 nautical miles along its coastline and prior permission requirement for military operations within the Exclusive Economic Zone, which are contrary to international law.”

These are waters where Coast Guard cutters conduct law enforcement operations. If Venezuela wants to make a show of opposing US operations in these waters, it would be a lot easier for them to take on a 210 that a DDG or even an LCS.

“Trinidad & Tobago Orders 2 Cape-class Patrol Boats from Austal” –Naval News

The Australian Customs patrol boat ACV Cape St George on Darwin Harbour in 2014, Photo by Ken Hodge

Naval News reports that Trinidad and Tobago has signed a deal for two Cape Class 58 meter patrol vessels from Austal in Australia. Contract is valued at 126M A$ or about $85.4M US. That is less than the cost of our Webber class cutters. Not that I think the USCG is in the market for anything like this right now. (Perhaps the Navy might consider it.) Still a comparison is interesting.

The Cape Class is a enlarged, improved version of the earlier Armidale class patrol vessels. The Cape Class was originally developed for the Australian Border Force, but the Australian Navy is currently also operating two of the class. Compared to the Webber class.

  • Displacement about twice as large: 700 tons vice 353
  • Length: 57.8 m (190 ft) vice 46.8 m (154 ft)
  • Beam: 10.3 m (34 ft) vice 8.11 m (26.6 ft)
  • Draft: 3 m (9.8 ft) vice 2.9 m (9.5 ft)
  • HP, less: 6,772 vice 11,600
  • Speed, slower: 25 vice 28
  • Crew, smaller: 18 vice 24
  • Boats: two on davits vice one in stern ramp

The dramatic difference seems to be range and endurance, 28 days and 4,000 miles vs five days and 2,500 miles, although I continue to believe the Webber class’ endurance could be improved with only a little effort. These little ships also have aluminum hulls, while the Webber class hull is steel. Also the Australian ships are armed with nothing larger than crew served machine guns. That appears to be just a matter of choice but it would increase the cost.

In some ways these look a lot like the French “La Confiance” PLG. meaning they are similar to the Cutter X concept, although I would favor something a little larger so that it might be able to operate a helicopter.

Our previous contributor on the Tinidad and Tobago Coast Guard, Sanjay Badir-Maharaj, questions the wisdom of this purchase, since The Trinidad and Tobago Coast Guard seems to be having trouble maintaining the vessels it has now. Some degree of maintenance is included apparently, we wish them luck.

“Antigua, Sprawling “Chinese Colony” Plan Across Marine Reserve Ignites Opposition” –The Guardian

Map of the Caribbean Sea and its islands. Antigua can be seen on the NE corner of the Caribbean. Photo credit: Wikipedia Commons, author–Kmusser, all data from Vector Map.

There has been an interesting development in an area the Coast Guard frequents. The Guardian reports the Chinese are developing a part of the island of Antigua. Critics contend it will operate as a state within a state.

The 2000 acre development will include a seafood harvesting company.

“The master plan includes up to seven resorts, a shipping port (emphasis applied–Chuck), the country’s first four-lane highway, offshore “wealth management” centres, hospital and university facilities, a school, bank and a luxury golf community on adjacent uninhabited Guiana Island. The 400-acre industrial section includes steel and ceramic tile factories.”

The way the Chinese do things incrementally, this sounds suspiciously like it might be beginnings of a base.

At one time, Antigua was the site of NAVFAC Antigua, decommissioned 4 February 1984, an underwater listening station, part of the Surveillance System (SOSUS) and the Integrated Undersea Surveillance System (IUSS), which were used to track Soviet submarines.

“Exclusive: ACLU Alleges Coast Guard Detained and Abused Fishermen” –The Atlantic

Photo source: ACLU

The Atlantic reports on a suit filed by the ACLU against the Coast Guard. I will make no comments on the merits. This is not the first time Coast Guard prisoner detention procedures have been questioned.

If the ACLU wins this case it could adversely effect our ability to perform the drug interdiction mission. This criticism is not going to go away. Any thing we could do to dull the criticism would probably be helpful.

“The Coast Guard Should Helm SouthCom” –US Naval Institute Proceedings

Source: UNrefugees.com

The US Naval Institute has published a feature article by two USCG Lieutenant Commanders, Krystyn Pecora and Piero Pecora, suggesting that perhaps a Coast Guard flag Officer should command SouthCom.

This would certainly put the US military presence in Latin America in a different light, after a history of US meddling in Latin American internal affairs.

“Safety, stability, and economic prosperity in this region will help allay the continuing migration crisis, lay the groundwork for disaster-resilient communities, and prevent a Chinese foothold in the Western Hemisphere. The traditional DoD approach of building partner-nation military capabilities through training and access to U.S. equipment in trade for forward-deployed staging access will not suffice to achieve these goals. It will require a focus on building local civil, law enforcement, and military authorities capable of rooting out TCOs—a mission tailor-made for the Coast Guard. “

While being a Combatant Commander would certainly be a change from the Coast Guard’s normal supporting role, it might not be too much of a stretch. After all, we are not engaged in actual combat in Latin America. Generally Coast Guard forces make up most of SouthCom’s operational units,

and other Department of Homeland Security (DHS) assets make up much of the rest.

Coast Guard leadership in SouthCom is a natural fit. Coast Guard officers have led SouthCom’s J-3 directorate for nearly a decade, and its primary component command, Joint Interagency Task Force–South, for nearly three decades. SouthCom’s lines of effort—building relationships, countering threat networks, and enabling rapid response—all align with the Coast Guard’s statutory missions.

Looking at the humanitarian crisis that is driving the illegal immigration at the border, DHS might see DHS coordination of the US response, in the form of a Coast Guard SouthCom, as the best hope for a long term solution.

Something is Happening in Venezuela

Orthographic map of Venezuela centered on Caracas. Controlled territory in dark green. Claimed territory in light green. From Wikipedia, author: Addicted04

Venezuela is in an area vital to the Coast Guard’s drug interdiction effort.

CBS is reporting,

President Trump recognized the chief opposition leader in Venezuela, National Assembly President Juan Guaido, as the country’s legitimate interim president. The rare move by the White House comes as large anti-government protests erupted across the South American nation on Wednesday.

The Organization of American States (OAS) recently passed a resolution agreeing not to recognize the legitimacy of Maduro’s new term, which began on January 10.

What happens next is anybody’s guess. Civil war is possible, and it already looks like a humanitarian crisis. That our cutters may become involved in some way is not out of the question.

Thanks to Andres for bringing this to my attention.

Tradewinds 2018 and the Caribbean’s Maritime Security Challenges–CIMSEC

Participants in the Tradewinds 2018 exercise. Seen here are U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Charles David Jr. (WPC-1107, most distant); the British RFA Mounts Bay (L3008, left), a Bay-class auxiliary landing ship dock; Canada’s HMCS Shawinigan (MM 704, right), a Kingston-class coastal defense vessel; and Mexico’s ARM Oaxaca (PO 161, foreground), an Oaxaca-class patrol vessel along with a Mexican helicopter AS365N3 Panther. 180616-N-ZZ999-0004.JPG Photo By: Able Seaman John Iglesias

CIMSEC provides a brief review of the SOUTHCOM sponsored 2018 Tradewinds exercise along with background information about current maritime security challenges in the Caribbean.