“Philippine Coast Guard Set For Personnel Boost” –Naval News

BRP Teresa Magbanua during sea trials off Japan (Photo: Philippine Coast Guard)

Naval News reports,

“The Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) is set to receive an additional 4,000 personnel this year, in order to reach a total of 30,000 by year-end.”

Some things to note:

That is almost 75% the size of the US Coast Guard, while the Philippine EEZ is less than 20% of the US.

The Philippine Coast Guard will be considerably larger than the Philippine Navy which has 24,500 active-duty members including 8,300 Marines.

BRP Batangas (SARV-004) in between USCGC Bertholf (WMSL 750) and BRP Kalanggaman (FPB-2404) in an Exericse held in 2019. For many years, the Australian San Juan and Ilocos Norte vessels were the only major patrol assets in PCG service.
(U.S. Coast Guard photo by Chief Petty Officer John Masson)

Until 2020 the Philippine Coast Guard had no large patrol cutters. Their largest ships were two buoy tenders including the former USCGC Redbud, first commissioned in 1944. In fact, they mark the founding of their Coast Guard Fleet only as of 2007.

Beginning in 2020 the Philippine Coast Guard has obtained their first large patrol cutter, the 83 meter BRP Gabriela Silang. In 2022 they obtained two Japanese built 97 meter cutters of the Teresa Magbanua-class (see lead photo). They hope to get many more.

This build-up is obviously in response to Chinese intrusions into the Philippines’ Exclusive Economic Zone.

It appears the Philippine Coast Guard still has no weapons larger than .50 caliber machine guns. It will be interesting to see if this changes.

“Philippines Says China Ship Used Laser Against Coast Guard” –Real Clear Defense

RealClearDefense reports,

 “The Philippines on Monday accused a Chinese coast guard ship of hitting a Philippine coast guard vessel with a military-grade laser and temporarily blinding some of its crew in the disputed South China Sea, calling it a “blatant” violation of Manila’s sovereign rights.”

The incident occurred near Second Thomas Shoal, as the Philippine cutter BRP Malapascua was escorting a resupply mission to the BRP Sierra Madre, a Philippine LST deliberately, permanently grounded on Second Thomas Shoal. (Video here). Apparently the resupply effort was turned back.

Philippine CG statement on the incident here.

None of the Philippine Coast Guard cutters seem to be armed with anything larger than a .50 cal. machine gun, so they are at a disadvantage in facing down a large China CG cutter armed with a 76 mm gun, like the one in the photo above.

Philippines Standing Up to China? Joint Patrols?

Philippine Navy frigate BRP Andrés Bonifacio (FF 17), the former USCGC Boutwell, participates in a group sail during the Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) exercise off the coast of Hawaii, July 26, 2018. (U.S. Navy photo by Arthurgwain Marquez)

A couple of recent reports seem to indicate the Philippines is becoming more aggressive in the protection of their EEZ.

Marine Link reports, “Philippines Coast Guard Boosts South China Sea Presence.”

“The Philippine Coast Guard has stepped up its presence in the disputed South China Sea by deploying additional vessels and conducting more sorties and overflights to protect maritime territory and the country’s fishermen, its chief said on Monday.”

gCaptain reports, “Philippine Navy Says China Tailed Its Warship.”

“The navy’s BRP Andres Bonifacio was conducting a patrol and search mission on Feb. 1 when it was monitored and tailed by the Chinese vessels near the reef, which is within the Philippines’ 200-nautical mile exclusive economic zone, said Armand Balilo, a spokesman for the coast guard. The militia boats “even conducted an intercept course,” he added.”

That the Philippine Navy is sending one of its largest ships (painted gray), the former USCGC  Boutwell, to confront Chinese trespassing is, I believe, a change from their previous policy.

Since the US and the Philippines have agreed to resume joint patrols, I would not be surprised to see a US Coast Guard cutter backstopping a Philippine CG cutter as it boards and perhaps seizes a Chinese fishing vessel. There are certainly plenty of them that are violating Philippine law.

“FLOODING THE ZONE: CHINA COAST GUARD PATROLS IN 2022” –CSIS

The Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative of Center for Strategic and International Studies provides a report showing the extent of China Coast Guard patrols of five features of the South China Sea, Second Thomas Shoal, Luconia Shoals, Scarborough Shoal, Vanguard Bank, and Thitu Island, in 2022 and comparing that to 2020. (There was no explanation for why no information regarding 2021 was included.)

The report also indicated that China Coast Guard is using automatic identification system (AIS) in a deceptive manner.

Thanks to Paul for bringing this to my attention.

“China Accused of Building on Unoccupied Reefs in South China Sea” –gCaptain

Satellite images obtained by Bloomberg News depict physical changes to a layered land feature at Sandy Cay between 2009 and 2021. Credit: Bloomberg

gCaptain reports,

China is building up several unoccupied land features in the South China Sea, according to Western officials, which they said was part of Beijing’s long-running effort to strengthen claims to disputed territory and potentially bolster its military presence in a region critical to global trade.

Apparently, China is not satisfied with the military outposts they have created in the South China Sea and are in the process of creating more. These actions may be taken by the Chinese both in support their systematic theft of EEZ resources from other nations and as support for a future blockade of Taiwan.

Certainly, these will be upgraded to military installations just as has been done with other artificial islands.

The nations whose EEZs are being violated by these activities have an opportunity to put a stop to it, while they are being done by fishing vessels, before there is a Chinese military presence, if they act quickly and aggressively to stop this illegal activity.

“Document: Office of Naval Intelligence’s Chinese People’s Liberation Army Navy, Coast Guard, Ship Identification Guide” –USNI

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

The US Naval Institute’s News Service reports the availability of a new document, “Office of Naval Intelligence’s Chinese People’s Liberation Army Navy, Coast Guard. and Government Maritime Forces 2022-2023 Recognition and Identification Guide.

You cannot actually read much of it on the USNI site, but you can download a copy here. You’ll need to expand it to read much of the information.

From a Coast Guard perspective, there are a couple things to note.

First is the sheer number of China Coast Guard cutters. China’s internationally recognized EEZ is less than 8.5% that of the US. Even if their expansive unrecognized claims were included, their total EEZ would be less than 20% that of the US. But according to the guide, they have over 200 cutters of 60 meters (197 feet) in length or greater (225 by my quick count). The US Coast Guard by comparison has 57: 37 patrol cutters, three icebreakers, 16 buoy tenders, and the barque Eagle.

Second, China has other agencies that apparently do coast guard work, that also have their own ships including the Sansha City Patrol, China, and the Maritime Safety Agency which, alone, has over 40 ships 60 meters or greater in length.

Chinese F/V Attempts to Ram USCGC James –AP

In this photo made available by the U.S. Coast Guard, guardsmen from the cutter James, seen at background right, conduct a boarding of a fishing vessel in the eastern Pacific Ocean, on Aug. 4, 2022. During the 10-day patrol for illegal, unreported or unregulated fishing, three vessels steamed away. Another turned aggressively 90 degrees toward the James, forcing the American vessel to maneuver to avoid being rammed. (Petty Officer 3rd Class Hunter Schnabel/U.S. Coast Guard via AP)

The Associated Press is reporting,

“…a heavily-armed U.S. Coast Guard cutter sailed up to a fleet of a few hundred Chinese squid-fishing boats not far from Ecuador’s Galapagos Islands. Its mission: inspect the vessels for any signs of illegal, unreported or unregulated fishing…But in this case, the Chinese captains of several fishing boats did something unexpected. Three vessels sped away, one turning aggressively 90 degrees toward the Coast Guard cutter James, forcing the American vessel to take evasive action to avoid being rammed.”

Of course there is much more to the story.

Coast Guard Cutter Kimball encounters Russia and People’s Republic of China military naval presence in Bering Sea” –D17

A Coast Guard Cutter Kimball crewmember observing a foreign vessel in the Bering Sea, September 19, 2022. (I believe it is a Russian Udaloy class destroyer–Chuck)
The Coast Guard Cutter Kimball crew on a routine patrol in the Bering Sea encountered a People’s Republic of China Guided Missile Cruiser, Renhai CG 101, sailing approximately 75 nautical miles north of Kiska Island, Alaska.

Below is a District 17 news release (HQ Juneau). The Chinese cruiser referred to is a Type 055, NATO designation Renhai class. The USN considers it a cruiser, but it is considered by many a large destroyer.

News Release

U.S. Coast Guard 17th District Alaska

Coast Guard Cutter Kimball encounters Russia and People’s Republic of China military naval presence in Bering Sea

Editors’ Note: Click on images to download high resolution version.

JUNEAU, Alaska – The Coast Guard Cutter Kimball crew on a routine patrol in the Bering Sea encountered a People’s Republic of China Guided Missile Cruiser, Renhai CG 101, sailing approximately 75 nautical miles north of Kiska Island, Alaska, September 19, 2022.

The Kimball crew later identified two more Chinese naval vessels and four Russian naval vessels, including a Russian Federation Navy destroyer, all in a single formation with the Renhai as a combined surface action group operating in the U.S. Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). 

As a result, the Kimball crew is now operating under Operation Frontier Sentinel, a Seventeenth Coast Guard District operation designed to meet presence with presence when strategic competitors operate in and around U.S. waters. The U.S Coast Guard’s presence strengthens the international rules-based order and promotes the conduct of operations in a manner that follows international norms. While the surface action group was temporary in nature, and Kimball observed it disperse, the Kimball will continue to monitor activities in the U.S. EEZ to ensure the safety of U.S. vessels and international commerce in the area. A Coast Guard Air Station Kodiak C-130 Hercules air crew provided support to the Kimball’s Operation Frontier Sentinel activities.    

In September 2021, Coast Guard cutters deployed to the Bering Sea and North Pacific Ocean also encountered Chinese naval vessels, including a surface action group transiting approximately 50 miles off the Aleutian Island chain. 

 “While the formation has operated in accordance with international rules and norms,” said Rear Adm. Nathan Moore, Seventeenth Coast Guard District commander, “we will meet presence-with-presence to ensure there are no disruptions to U.S. interests in the maritime environment around Alaska.”

 Kimball is a 418-foot legend-class national security cutter homeported in Honolulu, Hawaii.

“Russia’s new maritime doctrine: adrift from reality?” –IISS

Russian Federation claimed territory. Disputed territory in light green.

The International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) has published a short look at Russia’s new maritime doctrine.

There are couple of things that caught my attention in the critique.

  • The Arctic, now comes first, replacing the Atlantic, and
  • No mention of China as a significant ally, while there is a reference to  partnerships and cooperation with India, Iran, Saudi Arabia and others.

The doctrine does not overtly acknowledge a diminished role for Russia on the world stage, but these actions may reflect that realization.

The Arctic: 

“In terms of the regional priorities of Russian naval activities, there is a reordering compared to 2015, with the Atlantic dropping from first to third on the list. The first priority is now the Arctic, with the promise of strengthened capabilities for the Northern and Pacific fleets in response to threats in the region.”

Emphasis on the Atlantic is inherently offensive, because they have to transit long distances through hostile waters to have an impact there. After all Russia has no Atlantic coast line. Access from either the Baltic or Black Sea looks increasing problematic.

Emphasis on the Arctic is primarily defensive. The Arctic is critical to Russia’s economy.  It is their front door. It is their longest border. Its Northern Sea Route is the strongest link between more populous industrialized European Russia and the sparsely populated Russian Far East, and with increasingly open water, the Arctic coast is increasingly exposed.

The Doctrine points out “…the ‘global naval ambitions’ of the United States, NATO activities close to Russia and at sea, an increase in foreign naval presence in the Arctic and efforts to weaken Russia’s control of the Northern Sea Route as the key challenges.” 

The US has made it clear it would like to conduct “Freedom of Navigation” exercises along the Northern Sea Route (which would require Coast Guard icebreakers). Russia has seen her control of the Northern Sea Route as a money maker and they are not eager to see it turned into open sea.

Notably China’s national interest is in opening the route to international traffic.

China: 

“…potential cooperation with China… is strikingly absent from the new doctrine.”

This and upgrades to Russia’s Pacific Fleet, along with improvements to the Northern Sea Route, may reflect a realization that perhaps China will not always be a friend, and ultimately China may turn on them.

A Second Analysis: 

There is a much more detailed analysis of the document here, done by Indian authors. This second analysis seems to confirm greater emphasis on the Arctic and discomfort with the isolation of the Russia’s eastern regions.

“In the 2015 doctrine, the Arctic was at second place after the Atlantic, which has been positioned at third place in the 2022 doctrine. Though the present sequencing may be in no specific order, it may also point to the priority of focus, as the Artic has found detailed mention as indicated earlier. It is evident that Russia recognises the Arctic not only as an area for global economic competition but as an area of military competition as well. The 21 focus areas enunciated for the Arctic region indicate a more positive and perhaps even aggressive approach as they:

—Posit Russia in the lead position in many areas of common regional interest.

—Espouse nuances of control, especially regarding foreign presence and shipping (particularly naval activities).

—Lay emphasis on protection of Russian sovereignty, especially resources.

—Indicate a growing focus on developing the requisite capacity and capability.”

When the Russian Empire fought the Russo-Japanese War (1904-1905), Russia was a great power and appeared to have many advantages, but its logistical links with its Asian holdings were weak. Apparently this is still the case.

Placement of the Pacific at second place is, perhaps, indicative of the Russian approach to the ‘Indo-Pacific’, enunciated in 2012 by the Russian president as the ‘pivot to Asia’, which was aimed at promoting modernisation of the economy. The term ‘pivot to Asia’ is, perhaps, reflective of the belief that “Russia, like China, still strongly opposes the idea of the Indo-Pacific”.
However, Russia will engage nations with which it has long standing strategic relations, like India. Hence, the 2022 doctrine retains the term ‘Asia-Pacific’, and focuses on “overcoming the economic and infrastructural isolation of the Far East from the industrialized regions of the Russian Federation, establishing sustainable sea (river), air and rail links with cities and towns in Siberia and the European part of the Russian Federation, including the development of the Northern Sea Route: This focus apparently seeks to strengthen the ‘pivot to Asia’ strategy, which was termed as a failure, especially due to “Russia’s lack of a comprehensive approach to overcoming the social and economic hardships faced by its least developed regions, namely Siberia and the country’s Far East”.

No Longer a Great Power: 

Despite its ambitions, Russia is not the Soviet Union and is no longer a Great Power. It is a middle weight power with a lot of nuclear weapons, many of which are aging. Potential military power is largely based on economic power, and Russia’s GDP is similar to that of Canada, Italy, Brazil, or South Korea. Even adjusted for “Purchase Power Parity (PPP),” Russia is only number six, behind China, the US, India, Japan, and Germany. In terms of PPP Russia’s GDP is only 14.5% that of China and 17.2% that of the US. Differences are even greater in terms of nominal GDP, 9.2% that of China and 7.2% that of the US.

As systems built during the Soviet era wear out and become increasingly obsolete, Russia’s military power is rapidly fading.

This is not to say that, during a war, Russia would not send at least some submarines into the Atlantic, but they cannot realistically deny the US and NATO control of the North Atlantic. Their SSNs will likely be more more concerned with protecting their SSBNs.

Russian and Soviet Naval thinking has long had an emphasis on coastal defense, that we saw in construction of a large fleet of torpedo and missile boats, corvettes, and light frigates. We still see that in the Karakut and Buyan-M class corvettes, and the retention of large numbers of Soviet era corvettes and light frigates, while they have not laid down a single carrier, cruiser, or destroyer since the fall of the Soviet Union. Even their frigates are smaller than their European counterparts.

Russia, it seems, is desparately trying to maintain its image as a great power, hoping no one, particularly China, will notice, but it simply does not have the means.

“U.S. aims at PRC in new illegal fishing policy framework” –Indo-Pacific Defense Forum

Fijian law enforcement officers and U.S. Coast Guard personnel from USCGC MUNRO board a Chinese-flagged vessel off the coast of Fiji in April 2022 during patrols to counter illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing. IMAGE CREDIT: PO1 Nate Littlejohn, U.S. COAST GUARD

Indo-Pacific Defense Forum passed along an Associated Press report on US efforts to forge an international consensus to combat Illigal, Unreported, Unregulated (IUU) fishing, including  poor labor and environmental practices, first by applying a standard nationally,

It was expected to be followed quickly by new rules from the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration expanding the definition of illegal fishing to include related labor abuses, a first step to the eventual blacklisting of flag states that fail to comply.

Followed by work on an international treaty.

Significantly subsidies are now seen as unfair trade practice with disasterous impact on fish stocks. China has used subsidies to build the world’s largest fishing fleet, and they use it for more than just catching fish.

President Biden’s administration’s announcement came as the World Trade Organization (WTO) heralded a historic agreement, reaching a deal during its June 2022 conference in Geneva, Switzerland, to curb IUU fishing, reduce the strain on dwindling fishing stocks, and ensure more transparency and accountability through improved conservation and management measures. The WTO deal explicitly prohibits subsidies, considered by environmentalists to be the biggest contributing factor to depleting fish populations globally.