“From Chinese ambition to Saami tradition, an Arctic snapshot” –The Watch

A small-boat crew from the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Alex Haley medevacs a man from the Chinese research vessel Xue Long, 15 nautical miles from Nome, Alaska, in 2017

NORTHCOM’s on-line magazine, “The Watch,” reports on a conference on the Arctic. This is a follow-on to an earlier post.

The Watch report looks at China’s interests and roles in the Arctic and a perspective from a representative of indigenous peoples in the European Arctic.

“On the front lines against China, the US Coast Guard is taking on missions the US Navy can’t do” –Business Insider

US Coast Guard cutter Munro transits the Taiwan Strait with US Navy destroyer USS Kidd in August. US Navy

Business Insider reports on the increasing demand signal for Coast Guard assets in the Western Pacific and the necessary balancing act that results. They sum it up this way.

  • The US military has turned more of its attention to the Pacific amid competition with China.
  • The Coast Guard has been key, conducting missions other services aren’t equipped or allowed to do.
  • But it already has worldwide commitments, and higher demand in the Pacific could tax its resources.

None of this should come as a surprise to regular readers here, but it is a nice overview and there are some beautiful photos.

Perhaps more importantly these realities are being brought to a general audience.

Thanks to Mike B. for bringing this to my attention.

“Use the Coast Guard for Freedom of Navigation Operations” –USNI

USCGC Stratton (WMSL-752), left, and the U.S. Navy Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS McCampbell (DDG-85) maneuver in formation during Talisman Sabre 2019 on July 11, 2019. US Navy Photo

The December 2021 issue of US Naval Institute Proceedings has an article that suggests, “NSCs and OPCs are ideal vessels to take over FONOPs.”

Why do the authors, two Navy LCdr. and a Marine Capt., think this? They contend:

  • Their destroyers are overworked.
  • The Navy is having a hard time keeping their ships maintained.
  • Cutters are less intimidating
  • and less expensive
  • If the Chinese start playing bumper boats with Destroyers, they might damage expensive equipment. “…if a ship from the Chinese Navy, Coast Guard, or maritime militia were to ram a U.S. vessel conducting a FONOP, the ensuing visuals, narratives, and potential loss of combat capability would be starkly different between a Navy gray hull and a Coast Guard white hull.”

They talk about using LCS as an alternative, but then denigrate the possibility,

The Navy has rightfully used littoral combat ships (LCSs) to conduct limited FONOPs in the South China Sea, somewhat relieving overworked destroyers like the USS John S. McCain. However, the smaller LCS’s myriad of problems, curtailed acquisition numbers, and early retirement of the first four hulls mean the Navy will soon have to lean even more heavily on larger and generally older ships. With only 10 to 14 cruisers and destroyers available to Seventh Fleet at any given time, the Navy can ill-afford to use these high-demand, low-density, Aegis ships for FONOPs.

This, in spite of the fact, that LCS have only recently begun making regular deployments to the Western Pacific and LCSs are being added to the fleet at a rate of four per year.

First, I have no problem with Cutters doing FONOPs when they are in the Western Pacific, but that should not be the only reason, they are there.

US Navy ships are not overworked. That is a fiction. Having looked at the “USNI News Fleet and Marine Tracker” over many years, I can say, Navy ships are typically deployed about one third of the time, and they are underway only about 25% of the time, far less than Coast Guard cutters. That is not to say the people are not overworked, by burdensome administrative and overly broad qualification requirements for their junior officers. The ships are behind in maintenance because of lack of support, not time underway. Ships don’t need to spend 75% of their time, tied up in maintenance, to remain effective.

In war time, well over half the navy should be underway and forward deployed. The fact that they cannot support a much smaller forward presence, of which much of the time is not underway, in peacetime, points to a serious deficit in the Navy’s support structure. Where are the repairs ships, the tenders, the floating dry docks that allow a navy to be truly expeditionary?

If the Navy does not want to use carriers, cruisers, or destroyers for FONOPs because they are afraid of having them damaged, there are other alternatives. They could use amphibs: LHAs, LHDs, LPDs, and LSDs. They could use Military Sealift Command ships. MSC ships are clearly not as intimidating as carriers, cruisers, and destroyers. Were they to be damaged “the ensuing visuals, narratives, and potential loss of combat capability would be starkly different…” 

I would suggest using the new Navaho class tug and salvage ships. They are an excellent choice for playing bumper boats. They have strong steel hulls and are powerful enough to tow a nuclear-powered carrier. Their hulls are reinforced to allow hull to hull contact with other ships. Plus, they are a lot less expensive. Even less expensive than a Coast Guard cutter.

But really, using tugs or cutters to do FONOP kind of misses the point. The Chinese and the Russians are not upset because foreign ships are transiting waters they claim. They are upset because foreign warships are transiting the waters the claim. If we stop sending warships into the waters they claim, we are creating a defacto case that they have a right to such exclusion. That Coast Guard cutters may not be considered warships would weaken our case that, foreign warships in these waters is the norm.

“New Analysis: Squid Fishing North West Indian Ocean: Clear as Ink” –Trygg Mat Tracking

Below is an announcement of publication of a brief from Trygg Mat Tracking (TMT), regarding Illegal, Unregulated, Unreported (IUU) fishing in the Northwest Indian Ocean.

I think this is something the Coast Guard units of PATFORSWA might become involved with, at least in a training and capacity building role.

This is a quote from the website explaining how TMT sees its mission.

“TMT provides national fisheries authorities and international organisations with fisheries intelligence and analysis, to assist enforcement actions and broader improvements in fisheries governance.  While TMT works with governments and organisations worldwide, particular focus is on targeting illegal fishing and associated fisheries crime in and near African waters and assisting coastal African States.”


New Analysis: Squid Fishing North West Indian Ocean: Clear as Ink

December 8th 2021: TMT has been monitoring the high seas squid fishery taking place in the northwest Indian Ocean since 2017. The fishery is currently unregulated and has seen significant expansion year on year.

Earlier this year we were able for the first time to ground truth and document the activities of some of the vessels involved at sea – rather than relying on AIS and other satellite sources only – and have produced a brief: Squid Fishing in the North West Indian Ocean: Clear as Ink.

The brief provides extensive images of the fishing activities taking place. This has provided us with extensive new understanding of this operation, but also raises many new questions and concerns.

Key findings of our analysis include:

·        There are very low levels of AIS transmission by some vessels – a significant number of vessels were identified which transmitted over AIS whilst en route to the region and then switched AIS off or transmitted only very intermittently whilst on the fishing ground. Further to this, the quality of identifying information transmitted over AIS was often poor, making it challenging to monitor the fishery.

·        Transshipment at sea was documented from fishing vessels to reefers, confirming that this is an important component of the operation.

·        There are indications of potential EEZ incursions into Oman and Yemen by vessels in the fleet, but no clarity if these are licensed or not.

·        The vast majority of the vessels were identified as Chinese. Equally the majority of relevant port calls by both fishing vessels and reefers are in China. Chinese research vessels have also been active in the area.

·        All vessels documented in the fishery are using a type of gear we have not previously observed, involving large ‘dip’ nets. Many of the vessels appear to be able to deploy multiple gear types. This is significant for several reasons, including that recent announcements by the Chinese Government to limit high seas squid fishing specified that this applies to squid jigging vessels only.

Recently high seas squid fisheries in the Atlantic and Pacific have quite rightly received significant attention. Quietly however a major fishery in the northwest Indian Ocean has also been growing year on year, but was previously only visible using satellite data. Now we have a snapshot of the operations at sea for the first time – and while some of our questions about this operation have been answered, many more are raised. The vessels observed were not jiggers as expected, but are using a new type of net gear. As well as squid the vessels are taking on board bycatch, including tuna species, fish the vessels are not authorised to catch. We hope this new analysis will help to shape appropriate policies and inform further action that will have real and lasting impacts on the sustainability of the North West Indian Ocean squid fishery and all those that depend upon it” said Duncan Copeland, Executive Director Trygg Mat Tracking.

The fishery is now starting up again for the 2021-2022 fishing season. As they do so it is important to note that this northwest Indian Ocean squid fishery continues to be subject to very little management and limited regulatory oversight. This represents a threat, not only to the sustainability of squid stocks in the region but potentially also to other regional fisheries, given the key role that oceanic squid plays in the marine food chain.

There is a clear need to address the current management gap as this fishery falls outside the geographical scope of the Southern Indian Ocean Fisheries Agreement (SIOFA) and outside the species mandate of Indian Ocean Tuna Commission (IOTC). Positive engagement by China in this process is crucial, as flag state for the fleet and port state receiving the catches, and as the only party with relevant information on the species, catch levels and fishing operations.

This briefing has been produced by Trygg Mat Tracking (TMT), with data and analytical support from Global Fishing Watch. At-sea documentation of vessels and fishing operations conducted in cooperation with Greenpeace International.

Download the 2021 brief: Squid Fishing in the North West Indian Ocean: Clear as Ink.

“China Transferring Navy Type 056 Corvettes To The Coast Guard” –Naval News

An ex-PLAN Type 056 corvette undergoing conversion for Coast Guard duties.

I reported transfer of 22 Type 056 covettes from the PLA Navy to the China Coast Guard back in November and discussed the implications, but now we have a better photograph and some commentary from Naval News.

The air-search radar, radar fire control, and 76mm gun remain. The ship is now equipped with fire-fighting monitors where the anti-ship cruise missiles were previously installed amidships, on the O-1 deck, above the letter “U” in GUARD.

For the first time, looking at the photo, I realized these ships are armed with an autocannon, I was not familiar with, the 30mm H/PJ-17, a single barrel optionally manned system, that is mounted on the O-1 deck aft of the bridge and below the fire control radar. As can be seen in the photo below, the bulwark can swing down to allow the gun to depress to a greater angle. This may have been in order to fire at targets at close range, or it may have been to allow the gun to continue to follow a target even when the ship is experiencing heavy rolls. I have not been able to find out much about these weapons.

Chinese H/PJ-17 30mm

Information on the Yinhe Incident referred to in the Naval News report is here.

“Time to Revise the Japan Coast Guard Act?” –The Diplomat

Japan Coast Guard patrol vessel PL82 Nagura at the Port of Ishigaki. Photo from Wikipedia Commons, by Yasu

The Diplomat reports that Japan is considering changes to their laws governing the Japan Coast Guard.

One proposal seeks to add “maintenance of  territorial sea integrity” and “security of territorial sea” to the Act’s mission, while another seeks to moderate the prerequisites allowing harm through use of weapons by Coast Guard officers. All of these proposals seek to give the JCG more muscle.

I don’t have a feel for what the actual proposed changes are, but I do know the Japan Coast Guard does not have the same close relationships with the Japanese Navy (Maritime Defense Force) that the USCG enjoys with the USN. It is not a military service. They don’t share equip or even use the same fuel. You can bet they don’t share the same communications systems. This means that the organization is not as useful as it might be in wartime, and, of more immediate concern, it means coordination in crisis is far more difficult.

Currently none of the Japan Coast Guard vessels have weapons larger than 40mm, and very few have an air search radar or any kind of AAW firecontrol system. If Japanese Self Defense Forces are not immediately available as backup, it might be hard not to feel intimidated by better armed China Coast Guard vessels, particularly if supported by aircraft.

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

“Chinese Amphibious Forces Eye A Great Leap Past The Second Island Chain” –Forbes

Craig Hooper, writing for Forbes, points out the very real possibility that China, using the pretext of a rescue mission, might seize a permanent presence in Oceania well East of the First Island Chain.

The idea of coming to the aid of Chinese diaspora is very popular with the people of China. There was a very popular movie, Operation Red Sea (2018), that depicted such an expedition (trailer above), very loosely based on the evacuation of Chinese citizens from Yemen in 2015 with considerable fictionalization of the actual events. As we know, nothing goes public in China unless it serves the goals of the party.

Hooper suggests the Coast Guard is part of the solution.

Up-Gunning the China Coast Guard–Add 22 New Type 056 Corvettes

Type 056 corvette, credit 樱井千一

We have a report from Defence.PK, that 22 PLAN Type 056 corvettes are being transferred to the China Coast Guard. These ships are the early models that were completed without the more sophisticated anti-submarine warfare capabilities of the Type 056A. Rather than upgrade them, the Chinese Navy will build 22 additional Type 054A Frigates.

Reportedly they are adding a LED billboard and the missiles are being removed. Probably the torpedoes as well. But that still leaves a 120 round/minute 76 mm gun and a pair of 4,000 round/minute 30mm Gatling Guns.

The China Coast Guard already has more large cutters than the US Coast Guard, despite of the fact that their EEZ is less than 20% that of the US, even if all their outrageous claims were accepted. But most of these cutters have no guns of 20mm or larger. 22 AK-176 76mm guns and 44 AK-630 30mm Gatling Guns will substantially increase the China Coast Guard’s firepower.

These 1500 ton 25 knot ships are a handy size for an area like the South China Sea.

Unlike the US Coast Guard, the China Coast Guard tends to operate their cutters in groups. Three of these, snuggled up to you, at close range, could be very intimidating even to a DDG like those the US Navy uses for Freedom of Navigation Exercises. For relatively unarmed Asian Coast Guard cutters, it would be much more so.

Chinese Naval Forces don’t have a lot of naval victories in their past so the Battle of Paracel Islands, where they defeated the Vietnamese by opening fire at very close range, must assume outsized importance in their imagination.

Image

I note, the cutters China used when they recently turned back a Philippine resupply effort in the South China Sea, included at least one armed with a 76mm gun.

In case you missed it, below is a statement from the US Ambassador to the Philippines (and to China).

“VESSEL REVIEW | KOLACHI – NEW LARGE PATROL VESSEL FOR PAKISTAN MARITIME SECURITY AGENCY” –Baird Maritime

Photo: PMSA

Baird Maritime reports delivery of a Chinese designed Offshore Patrol Vessel to the Pakistan Maritime Security Agency (PMSA), the maritime safety and law enforcement arm of the Pakistan Navy. This second ship was reportedly built in Pakistan while the first was produced in China.

This ship may look a bit familiar. It appears to be a variant of the Type 056 corvette. 72 of the corvettes were inducted into the Chinese PLA Navy between 2013 and 2019. Variants of the class also serve with the Bangladeshi and Nigerian Navies and the China Coast Guard.

There is a Pakistani Coast Guards distinct from the PMSA, but it falls under the authority of the Pakistani Army and functions more like Customs and Border Protection and its Air and Marine Unit, being limited to operations on shore and within the 12 mile limit.