“U.S. Navy Reports On Arctic And North Atlantic” –Naval News

Official portrait of Admiral Burke as Commander NAVEUR-NAVAF

Naval News reports on a Webinar conducted by Admiral Robert Burke who is Commander of U.S. Naval Forces Europe, Commander of U.S. Naval Forces Africa, and Commander of Allied Joint Forces Command in Naples. Previously he served as Vice Chief of Naval Operations. He is a submariner. Sounds like he spent some time under the ice.

There is a lot here about the Arctic. Keep in mind he is talking primarily about the Atlantic side rather than the waters around Alaska. This is primarily about the Russian threat, but there are concerns about China as well.

“Chinese Assessment of New U.S. Naval Strategy” –USNI

The US Naval Institute news service provides a translation of a Chinese review of the Tri-Service Naval Strategy, “Advantage at Sea.”

It is, in my view, a surprisingly even handed evaluation. Not that it does not reflect the Chinese position, but it is at least fairly accurate.

One particular paragraph references the US Coast Guard.

Third, the U.S. will also introduce a new style of struggle, namely, it will bolster competition in the “gray zone.” That is, the U.S. will take greater action in the domains of social media; supply chains, especially defense industry chains; and space and cyber. A fairly obvious early indicator of this was that the USCG—which traditionally operates in the vicinity of the U.S. coast to defend the security of U.S. territory—has recently moved forward into the South China Sea region. It is preparing to conduct military operations in the South China Sea, with the aim of striking China’s maritime forces as well as bolstering joint law enforcement with regional states in the South China Sea, in order to respond to China’s South China Sea rights protection operations.

The idea of the USCG moving into the South China Sea “with the aim of striking China’s maritime forces” is a bit far fetched, but the rest is reasonably accurate and reflects the Strategy’s recognition of the Coast Guard as uniquely qualified to counter aggression in the “Gray Zone.”

“China Navy deploys its Type 272 icebreaker ship Haibing to carry out 84th ice survey mission”

Chinese Navy Type 723 icebreaker ship Haibing. (Picture source China MoD)

Navy Recognition reports,

“According to information published by the Chinese Ministry of Defense on January 29, 2021, the Chinese Navy sent the Type 272 icebreaker ship Haibing (Sea Ice, Hull 722) to the Bohai Sea and the northern waters of the Yellow Sea to perform the 84th ice survey mission on January 25, 2021.”

The accompanying photo (above) is the first I have seen of this ship. An older Global Security post has a description of the vessel and its activities.

Reportedly its specifications include:

  • Displacement: 4,800 tons (probably a light displacement)
  • Length: 103.1 meters (338′)
  • Beam: 18.4 meters (60.4′)
  • Speed: 18 knots

It appears to be smaller, longer, and narrower than the Wind Class icebreakers the US built in the 1940s.

  • Displacement: 6,500 tons full load
  • Length: 269′ (82m)
  • Beam: 63.5′ (19.5m)

Length to beam ratio is narrow for an icebreaker at 5.6:1. There is a finer taper on the bow and stern than you might expect.

Length to beam ratio for US icebreaker designs are:

  • Wind Class: 4.24
  • Glacier: 4.18
  • Polar Star: 4.77
  • Polar Security Cutter: 5.23

Only the PSC, designed for long open ocean voyages, comes close.

This Chinese icebreaker entered service just over five years ago. It is one of a class of two, is unarmed, and it appears its operations have been confined to the Yellow Sea and the Bohai Sea, a Westward extension of the Yellow Sea. It almost certainly has less than 20,000 HP so would be considered a light icebreaker by the USCG.

“Indonesia Escorts Seized Tankers to Dock for Investigation” –gCaptain

Iranian-flagged crude oil tanker MT Horse is escorted to Batam, Riau Islands, Indonesia January 26, 2021. Indonesian Coast Guard (BAKAMLA)/Indonesian Navy (TNI AL)/Handout via REUTERS

Something interesting happening in Indonesia. gCaptain reports,

“Wisnu told Reuters on Monday that the ships were “caught red-handed” transferring oil from MT Horse to MT Freya and that there was an oil spill around the receiving tanker.”

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.

“Huge New Chinese Ships Are Made For Ramming” –Forbes

Forbes suggests that the Chinese are planning to use some of their new ships to shoulder US ships.

Those flat sides aren’t an aesthetic choice, according to Jerry Hendrix, an American naval expert and author of the new book To Provide and Maintain a Navy. They’re for what sailors calls “shouldering.” That is, muscling into a rival ship and forcing it to change course.

Given that the Coast Guard is sending ships into the Western Pacific and participating in Freedom of Navigation Exercises, this threat is significant for us.

I have a lot of respect for Jerry Hendrix. I bought his book. But first, of course, most ships incorporate flat sides over a significant length simply because it is the cheapest construction method. Our National Security Cutters may have stealth incorporated in their design, but look at the OPCs.

OPC “Placemat”

The article specifically calls out two classes of Chinese ships as likely to be used for shouldering, the Type 055, which is a cruiser or large destroyer, and the “Chinese coast guard’s patrol ship Haixun.”

I certainly would not dispute the Chinese’s propensity for employing shouldering or even ramming. They have employed these techniques in enforcing their claims of sovereignty over the South China Sea, as identified by their still ill defined “nine dash line,” but I think they have called out the wrong ships.

Artist impression of 10,000 tons class patrol vessel Haixun

Haixun is not part of China Coast Guard, it is a unit of the China Maritime Safety Administration which is their SAR agency. This agency has not been used for law enforcement.

The Type 055 is a very well equipped combatant and probably one of the most expensive units in the Chinese Navy. Her hull is not unusual and not a significant departure from that of the preceding Type 052D class. Their sides are not particularly flat. They are not units the Chinese would risk damaging.Zhaotou class cutter Haijing 2901. Photo from http://defence-blog.com/news/photos-charge-of-the-10000-ton-china-coast-guard-cutter.html

Any of the China Coast Guard units could be used for shouldering or even ramming, but their heavy weights are two ships of the Zhaotou class, Haijing 2901 and Haijing 3901. These are the world’s largest Cutters and probably over 12,000 tons full load–about three times the size of the National Security Cutters. They are also capable of 25 knots.

china-defense.blogspot.com

The post suggests that the Mumford Point class T-ESDs and ESBs, based on a double hull tanker design would be an appropriate counter, but while they are large (60,000 tons and 785 ft (239 m) long), they are also slow (15 knots), not very powerful for their size (24 MW or about 32,000 HP), and not very maneuverable.

If we had more icebreakers, we might want to send one of them. We know what can happen when a lightly built ship plays bumper boats with an ice class vessel.  On the other hand, the Chinese have started building icebreakers and ice strengthened merchant vessels, so we might want to keep that in mind.

Maybe the Navy has another reason to consider ice-strengthened ships.

“EVOLUTION OF THE FLEET: A CLOSER LOOK AT THE CHINESE FISHING VESSELS OFF THE GALAPAGOS” –CIMSEC

Chinese fishing vessel fleet (Photo: The Maritime Executive)

Somehow I missed this post when it was published, 19 Oct. 2020, but it was recently recognized as one of CIMSEC’s the top ten posts for 2020.

This only looks at fishing off the Galapagos, but pretty sure this is happen elsewhere as well. The post reports the Chinese government is paying massive subsidizes and suggests that it seems to be attempting to establish a sort of lien on the world’s fisheries stocks, e. g. “we have historically taken the majority of the high sea’s catch so we should be allowed to continue to do so in perpetuity.”

It also looks at indicators of Illegal, Unregulated, and Unreported (IUU) fishing.

“China Coast Guard to be allowed to use force in case of territorial infringement” –People’s Liberation Army Daily

This Chinese People’s Liberation Army Daily post concerning use of deadly force, linked here, may be particularly interesting for its call out of the US Coast Guard.

Law enforcement on land, sea and in airspace under its own jurisdiction, with the use of weapons on necessary occasions, are the rights granted to sovereign states by international law. The Japan Coast Guard (JCG) also stipulates that lethal weapons can be used when enforcing the law in waters under its own jurisdiction. For the US Coast Guard (USCG), the use of force is even more common, and it is even planning to apply long-arm jurisdiction to China.

Admiral Karl Schultz, Commandant of the USCG, claimed to strengthen deployment in the Asia-Pacific region and participate in security patrols in the waters surrounding China in response to Chinese maritime militia’s declaration of sovereignty in the South China Sea in April last year. Robert O’Brien, US National Security Advisor, announced on October 24 that the USCG would deploy Enhanced Response Cutters in the Western Pacific. . Without providing any evidence, he accused Chinese fishing boats of illegal fishing and claimed that the sovereignty of the United States and its neighbors in the Pacific had thus been threatened.

If they should choose to employ force against one of our cutter in their claimed “Nine Dash Line,” it is likely they would attempt to get several units in at very close range before opening fire, as they did in this engagement.

Chinese depiction of the fighting Battle of Paracels Islands

Next time we send a cutter into this area, it might be a good idea to have a squad of Marines along armed with shoulder fired missile or rocket launchers.

Might also be a good idea to provide a bit of ballistic protection (and here) for our .50 cal. gun crews. Not too difficult because you can buy it on the GSA catalog.

Most China Coast Guard Cutters are not as well armed or as fast as the Bertholfs, but there are exceptions. In all likelihood they would be more interested in causing casualties and chasing us off, than actually sinking a cutter. This is more likely to serve their purpose without getting themselves in a war. Not that I think such an attack would go unanswered, but they, or a mid-level commander, might be foolish enough to think they could get away with it. Still probably better not to have a lone cutter doing “Freedom of Navigation Operations,” although air cover might be sufficient. Really I would like to see an international repudiation of their claims in the form of an multi-national demonstration.

Combinations of CCG cutters with weapons larger than 14.5mm machine guns could be extremely dangerous at close range. Some of those are shown below.

The China CG version of the Type 056 Corvette

 

China Coast Guard Cutters Converted  from Type 053H2G frigates

“Stuck in the middle with you: Resourcing the Coast Guard for global competition” –Brookings

Brookings contends that the Coast Guard, not the Navy, is the proper instrument to counter Chinese maritime “gray zone” operations. But it needs more money, something in the range of $200-500M more per year, a 1.7-4.2% budget increase.

Simply put, for a relatively meager influx of operations and maintenance funds, at least in DoD terms (where the unit cost of a single Fordclass aircraft carrier is more than the Coast Guard’s entire annual budget), the Coast Guard could provide substantially more services in the Pacific. Enhanced funding in the range of $200-$500 million would translate to improved readiness and availability of its National Security Cutter (NSC) fleet and other Coast Guard assets capable of operating deep into the Pacific theater. Importantly, this funding might actually save money for DoD. Using the Coast Guard to conduct joint military exercises and patrols, capacity building, and international training is far cheaper than using a higher-end Navy ship to perform the same missions. (emphasis applied–Chuck)

It goes on to suggest that the PATFORSWA model be replicated in the Western Pacific and suggests,

As a corollary, as the Coast Guard plans for its Offshore Patrol Cutter acquisition, it should consider whether it could optimize a sub-class of these vessels for these types of defense-flavored operations in the Pacific.

There is also a suggestion of overseas basing,

Finally, it may also be time for the Coast Guard to consider independent foreign basing options for the first time in recent memory, perhaps with America’s close ally and “Five Eyes” partner, Australia. A Coast Guard detachment in Australia would not only provide for an additional Pacific-centric staging area, besides existing Coast Guard locations in Hawaii and Guam, but would also assist with Coast Guard strategic icebreaking operations directed towards Antarctica, which is itself becoming more and more relevant in the era of great power competition.

Once we have our fleet of icebreakers, we might want to base one in Australia or New Zealand, but Guam still looks like a good place for our patrol ships, even if we might include OPCs in addition to the three Webber class FRCs currently planned. Patrolling our Western Pacific EEZ and that of friendly Micronesian states, we might want to replenish at Manus Island, Papua New Guinea, where Australia is developing a joint use base. At least for short term deployments, our ships and aircraft might also exploit the newly improved base at Wake Island 1,501 miles (2,416 kilometers) east of Guam, 2,298 miles (3,698 kilometers) west of Honolulu.

“Breaking the Ice: High Stakes in the High North” –RealClearDefense

Real Clear Defense offers a suggestion of how US policy regarding the Arctic should be shaped.

While some decry an “icebreaker gap”…, the real problem is that U.S. policy in the Arctic lacks direction. The United States needs a better approach – a new cooperative arrangement with Russia to protect the environment, maintain peace in the region, and box-out China.

The Coast Guard does need more icebreakers. It does not need nearly as many as Russia. Our thinking needs to consider our access to Antarctica, which, however quiet it may be now, may not always be that way.