“The United States has updated its policy on marine scientific research, requiring foreign ships to request permission before entering U.S. waters. It is the latest step by Washington to align U.S. law with the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea as it seeks to champion a rules-based order despite criticism from China for not ratifying the convention.”
This is expressly about the EEZ, not the territorial sea. What I find really remarkable here is,
According to the U.S. Office of Ocean and Polar Affairs, marine scientific research only includes “those activities undertaken in the ocean to expand knowledge of the marine environment and its processes.”
Hydrographic surveys – including those for military purposes — and resource exploration, which China’s research fleet is known for, are instead considered “marine data collection,” and thus are not affected under the updated policy.
OK, I can understand wanting to keep the door open for our hydrographic research in potential adversaries’ EEZ to inform submarine and anti-submarine operations, but EEZs are about “economic” pursuits. I would think that would include resource exploration.
Several of the South East Asian nations have objected to Chinese resource exploration in their EEZ, based on their interpretation of UNCLOS. Our statement seems to give cover for what most countries see as Chinese misbehavior.
The EEZ is supposed to allow the coastal state to regulate economic activity in adjacent waters. Why would we object to “those activities undertaken in the ocean to expand knowledge of the marine environment and its processes.”
Above is a Defense and Aerospace report interview with the Commandant, Adm. Karl Schultz. It is worth a look.
There is a lot here about what is going on in the Western Pacific and our response to China’s changing behavior. There is a lot of discussion about the Philippine Coast Guard which is apparently growing at a tremendous rate. There is also some discussion about other coast guards in South East Asia and the USCG’s place with “The Quad” (US, Australia, New Zealand, and France).
“The US also seeks to increase its activity in the Arctic. One of the strategies used by the Americans is deploying a significant number of US Coast Guard units in the region.”
(Maybe if one is a significant number?)
Fortunately, even this author, Mikhail Khodarenok, “military commentator for RT.com, a retired colonel, …who served at the main operational directorate of the General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces,” sees little likelihood of a major conflict.
Unfortunately he does see similarities to the situations we have in the Persian Gulf and the South China Sea where there have been, and we expect to continue to have, high levels of tension over the long term. This would be a change from the generally peaceful relations the Arctic nations have enjoyed for almost three decades.
There are a couple of points in his discussion that merit some comment.
“Western experts claim that Russia’s position on the NEP (North East Passage–Chuck)/Northern Sea Route is not always convincing, as allegedly it violates international maritime law to some degree and goes against the principle of the peaceful use of the seas and oceans. Moscow argues that Russia has authority over the NEP which passes through its exclusive economic zone(emphasis applied–Chuck) and any vessels willing to use this route have to ask for its permission.”
The Exclusive Economic Zone is purely about Economic exploitation, hence the name, and conveys no right to restrict passage in any form. If the Russians start interpreting the meaning differently, as the Chinese seem to be trying to do, there may be trouble.
“…if the ice continues to melt at current rates. The Northwest Passage may become completely free of ice in the next 40-50 years. This route goes across the Arctic Ocean along the Northern shores of North America and the Canadian Arctic Archipelago. It will be the shortest way from Shanghai to New York. If that happens, it will give rise to the same kind of problems that exist today around the NEP. The US is most likely to claim authority over the route,(emphasis applied–Chuck) while China is sure to say that such claims violate maritime law and go against the freedom of navigation principle.”
Canada is likely to continue to claim that the Northwest Passage is internal waters and demand notification and permission for passage, but the US has been very consistent in considering it an international waterway where anyone, including the Chinese, can transit without prior permission, based on the same argument used to claim that the Northern Sea Route is an international waterway.
There is a good possibility that once our icebreaker fleet is a little larger, we can expect the Coast Guard will be asked to exercise Freedom of Navigation on both the Northwest Passage and the Northern Sea Route. Apparently we have already been asked regarding the Northern Sea Route.
Ironically this is one area where we may find agreement with the Chinese regarding Freedom of the Seas, at least in the Arctic. It is a question of how closely the Chinese will try to work with the Russians. This could become a source of tension between the two.
Baird Maritime reports on an incident between Vietnamese and Indonesian fisheries protection vessels that resulted in the sinking of a Vietnamese fishing vessel in a disputed area of the South China Sea.
The Indonesian Corvette, KRI Tjiptadi (381), is a former East German Parchim class corvette like this one. It is about the size of a 210.
The South East Asian countries having disputes about their respective EEZs should really take it to the UN tribunal. The resulting decisions would ensure international recognition of their rights and leave China’s nine dash line claims in the trash bin.
Got a news release reporting the departure of Bertholf from Alameda California for a Patrol in the Western Pacific which I have quoted below. Normally I would leave reporting of ship deployments to other sites, but, I don’t think this is routine.
We have sent cutters into the Western Pacific (since Vietnam). Munro (WMSL-755) visited Fiji and the Solomon Islands in 2018 (Paying More Attention to the Western Pacific, Dec. 8, 2018). Waesche made the trip back in 2012 (Waesche Enroute to SE Asia Apr. 4, 2012).There could have been others, but I don’t think there were a lot more, but coming on the heels of Munro’s deployment this may be a trend.
There is also a video here. The Captain tells the crew, “We’re going to be doing a national security mission. When we get underway, we are going to be working for the United States Indo-Pacific Command, Combatant Commander. We’re going to be executing national security operation throughout the Pacific.”
Maybe Bertholf will stop in at Guam and check it out as a possible future base for Offshore Patrol Cutters. We already have indication three Webber class FRCs will replace the two 110s currently there.) Will they operate in the South China Sea? Will they do Freedom of Navigation Ops? Taking Vietnamese ship riders aboard and doing fisheries enforcement in the Vietnam EEZ inside the Chinese claimed Nine Dash Line, could get exciting. Guess we will have to wait and see.
Will they have a UAS aboard? And If we have no budget or continuing resolution to pay our people, how are we paying for fuel?
The News Release
On a gray and foggy morning, tears intermingled with rain as family members braved the elements to say goodbye to the 170 crewmembers of Coast Guard Cutter Bertholf (WMSL-750), a 418-foot national security cutter, which departed Alameda, California, Sunday for a patrol in the Western Pacific Ocean.
The U.S. Coast Guard has an enduring role in the Indo-Pacific going back over 150 years. The service’s ongoing deployment of resources to the region directly supports U.S. foreign policy and national security objectives in the Indo-Pacific Strategy and the National Security Strategy.
“The United States is a Pacific nation,” said Vice Adm. Linda Fagan, commander Coast Guard Pacific Area, who was present to see the cutter depart. “We have deep and long-standing ties with our partners in the region, and more importantly, we share a strong commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific, governed by a rules-based international system that promotes peace, security, prosperity and sovereignty of all nations.”
Bertholf will be operating in support of United States Indo-Pacific Command, which oversees military operations in the region. As part of its planned operations, the cutter will engage in professional exchanges and capacity building with partner nations.
“Security abroad equals security at home,” said Fagan. “Enhancing our partners’ capabilities is a force multiplier in combating transnational criminal and terrorist organizations and deterring our adversaries.”
As both a federal law enforcement agency and an armed force, the Coast Guard is uniquely positioned to conduct defense operations in support of Combatant Commanders on all seven continents. The service routinely provides forces in joint military operations worldwide, including the deployment of cutters, boats, aircraft and deployable specialized forces.
“I’m excited to see Bertholf sail today to the Indo-Pacific region of operations,” said Fagan, who described the cutter as one of the most capable in the Coast Guard fleet.
“They will be serving alongside other DoD military forces, particularly the U.S. Navy, and I know they will contribute key capabilities to that mission set. This crew has worked incredibly hard to get ready for today’s sailing, and I can’t think of a better ship and crew to be sending to the Indo-Pacific.”
Commissioned in 2008, Bertholf is the first of the Coast Guard’s legend class national security cutters. These advanced ships are 418-feet long, 54-feet wide, and have a 4,600 long-ton displacement. They have a top speed in excess of 28 knots, a range of 12,000 nautical miles, endurance of up to 90 days and can hold a crew of up to 170.
The cutter is named for Coast Guard legend Ellsworth P. Bertholf, who served as captain of the Revenue Cutter Bear during the famous Overland Relief Expedition, earning the Congressional Gold Medal. As the Coast Guard’s fourth commandant, Bertholf oversaw the transfer of the Coast Guard into the Department of the Navy during World War I and advocated for the successful postwar reconstitution of the service.
National security cutters feature advanced command and control capabilities, aviation support facilities, stern cutter boat launch and increased endurance for long-range patrols to disrupt threats to national security further offshore.
The Coast Guard is scheduled to commission its seventh national security cutter, the Coast Guard Cutter Kimball, in 2019. Kimball, along with the Midgett, which is currently under construction, will be homeported in Honolulu and will enhance the Coast Guard’s presence throughout the Indo-Pacific.
“The U.S. Coast Guard’s unique authorities, capabilities, and missions make us the maritime safety and security partner of choice for sea-going countries around the world,” said Capt. John Driscoll, Bertholf’s commanding officer. “Our increased presence throughout the Indo-Pacific will enhance regional stability and improve maritime governance and security.”
In an address to the families and crew before the cutter set sail, Driscoll emphasized how critical family support is to crew wellbeing and readiness.
“Support from our families, wherever they live, is vital to ensuring we are ready to sail and answer the demands of our nation,” Driscoll said. “We must ensure our families are ready to weather the storm at home. We operate in a dangerous and high-consequence environment, and your ability to focus on mission can become easily compromised if you are worried about family.”
Fagan acknowledged the current lapse in appropriations and government shutdown has added stress and feelings of uncertainty to the typical emotions that surround a cutter departure.
“I know it is hard for these crews to be leaving behind their dependents and spouses – it’s a thousand times more so when everyone is wondering when our next paycheck will be, and how they can support the family they are leaving behind,” Fagan said.
“There has been an incredible outpouring of support for the families here in the Alameda area, but the tension and the anxiety for the crew is real,” said Fagan. “We are standing by to help support those families who are left behind the same way that we are going to support the crew as they sail for the Western Pacific.”
Since the Coast Guard chose to base six Webber class in each of three different ports (18 total in Miami, Key West, and San Juan), it has seemed apparent that the Webber class were more than “fast response cutters,” sitting in port waiting for an alarm to ring sending them rushing off to a SAR case. It seemed likely these little ships, more than twice as large as the Island class 110 foot WPBs, would be used for offshore patrols much like an MEC.
This is perhaps colored by my recollection of WMECs (and even WHECs) that had no helicopter facilities. There were at one time 165, 143, and even 125 foot WMECs.
Coast Guard Compass brings us confirmation of the offshore capability of these vessels. USCGC Oliver F. Berry (WPC-1124) has completed a mission to conduct operations in the Republic of the Marshall Islands, 2,200 miles from her homeport. She conducted fisheries enforcement and capacity building, and laid the foundations for future missions to the Central Pacific.
Coast Guard cutter crews visit and work in the exclusive economic zone of partner nations throughout the year to help exercise bilateral agreements protecting sovereignty and resources in the Pacific. The ability of the FRCs to patrol this region increases the number of Coast Guard assets capable of operating in the area. About 66 percent of the world’s tuna comes from the Western and Central Pacific according to the National Fisheries Institute and fisheries are the primary economic driver in the Pacific, especially for small Pacific Island Nations. Illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing results in losses of more than an estimated 21 to 46 percent of catch representing a $1.5 billion revenue loss in the region according to the Marine Resource Assessment Group. This loss can have a direct effect on peace, governance and a continued American presence as transnational crime may supplant traditional fishing to fill voids created by economic declines. This threat is why a robust multilateral enforcement presence is crucial.
This is an area that has been seldom patrolled in the past. China is interested in replacing American influence with their own. It is an area we should not ignore. (see also)
Republic of the Marshall Island. Illustration by TUBS from Wikipedia
The eight day transit to and from the Marshall Islands was facilitated by USCGC Walnut (WLB-205) which transferred 8,000 gallons of fuel during two underway replenishments.
CCGD14 was in deed thinking outside the box, but maybe it will lead to other things. Webber class are already doing drug enforcement missions far South into the Caribbean. It appears, with a little support from larger vessels, the 18 District Seven Webber class ought to be able to continuously provide three FRCs in the Eastern Pacific.
Incidentally I am not suggesting a designation change. The WPC designation for the Webber class is the only one we have done since the start of the “Deepwater” program that makes any sense.
Despite the title, don’t expect a recitation of Coast Guard priorities. Most of the material is familiar, but there were a few interesting comments, including some that might be surprising. A number of things the Commandant said here made news.
That the NSCs could be made into frigates.
That the Polar Icebreaker would cost less than $1B
His support of transgender CG personnel.
I’ll give a quick outline of what was talked about. At the end I will rant a bit about some of my pet peeves.
The Commandant’s prepared statement is relatively short beginning at time 2m45s and ending about 11m.
6m00 In our listing of missions, the Commandant said Defense Operations should be listed first. He noted that there are 20 ships chopped to Combatant Commanders including eleven ships operating under SOUTHCOM.
Q&A begins at 11:00.
16m20s The Commandant noted there is a Chinese ship rider on a USCG cutter off Japan and that Coast Guard aircraft are flying out of Japan.
17m30s Boarder protection/drug interdiction
20m Called the OPCs “light frigates”
22m As for priorities the Commandant noted a need to invest in ISR and Cyber
23m Cyber threat.
24m Expect return to sea duty because of length of training.
26m30s “Demise of the cutterman”/Human Capital Plan–fewer moves–removed the stigma of geographic stability
29m25s Highest percentage of retention of all services–40% of enlisted and 50% of officers will still be in the service after 20 years
30m Law of the Sea. Extended continental shelf in the Arctic.
32m30s Need for presence in the Arctic.
36m ISR, 38m15s Firescout. An interesting side note was that the Commandant seemed to quash any possibility of using the MQ-8 Firescout. He noted when they deployed on a cutter 20 people came with the system. He called it unoccupied but not unmanned.
43m30s Comments on transgender members
45m15s Icebreakers–will drive the price down below $1B.
47m NSC as frigate–no conversations with the Navy about this. Performance of Hamilton.
49m50s Count the NSCs toward the 355 ship Navy.
50m30s Illegal migration and virulent infectious disease
53m35s CG training teams in the Philippines and Vietnam to provide competency to operate platforms to be provided by Japan. Two patrol boats going to Costa Rica. Other efforts to build capacity.
56m DHS is the right place for the CG.
The Commandant touched on a couple of my pet peeves, specifically
He called the OPCs “Light Frigates,” so why aren’t they designated that way? WMSM and WMSL are just wrong in too many ways. Give our ships a designation our partners and politicians can understand. A WLB is a cutter and also a buoy tender. The OPC can be both a cutter and a light frigate. I have suggested WPF. Maybe WFF for the Bertholfs and WFL for the Offshore Patrol Cutters. If we want to be thought of as a military service, we need to start using designations that will be seen and understood as military.
He mentioned the possibility of including the Bertholfs in the 355 ship fleet total. Coast Guard combatants should be included when the country counts its fleet. No, the cutters are not aircraft carriers or destroyers, but the current fleet of about 275 ships includes about 70 ships that have no weapons larger than a .50 cal. These include eleven MCM ships and about 60 ships manned by civilian crews such as tugs, high speed transports, salvage ships, underway replenishment ships, and surveillance ships. Counting the Cutters as part of the National Fleet would raise our profile as a military service. The Navy might not like it, but it does give a better idea of our actually available assets for wartime, which is the point of such a listing.
The administration’s FY 2018 budget request was not available, but the Commandant was there to discuss future priorities, requirements, and programs. The Department Secretary, General Kelly, is expected to address the Subcommittee on May 24 at 3PM Eastern.
I will just mention a few of the items I thought significant.
Admiral Zukunft noted that Huntington Ingalls has begun cutting steel for NSC #9. Questioned about NSC#10, he said, if it were funded, the Coast Guard would of course use it, but that the Offshore Patrol Cutter (OPC) is the Coast Guard’s #1 priority. His response, that another NSC would have an effect on long-range operating cost, seemed to suggest anticipated significantly lower operating costs for the OPC. Significantly, there has been no mention of reducing the OPC program by one ship to offset the addition of NSC #9. (There is already a strong push to build more NSCs, a bill to authorized a multi-year buy of three more.)
He contended that the Coast Guard has taken a harder hit, due to budget restrictions, than other armed services and would need 5% annual growth and at least $2B annually for Acquisitions, Construction, and Improvements (AC&I). Later he stated that this annual AC&I appropriation would included about $300M annually for shore facilities. He pointed to a need to restore 1100 Reserve Billets and add 5,000 active duty military billets while retaining current levels of Civilian staff.
Apparently the FY2918 budget will begin a program to replace 35 Inland tenders at an estimated cost of approximately $25M each ($875M total). (Even if, in the unlikely event, this program were funded in only five years, that would only average $175M/year, so it is not a big program, but one that should have begun at least a decade ago.)
Cyber security for ports was discussed. The Commandant sees the Coast Guard role as decimating best practices, rather than imposing regulation. We now have a cyber program of record–still very small, two CG Academy graduates going directly into the program. The fact that two billets is worth mentioning, is probably the best indication of how really small the program is. A much smaller pre-World War II Coast Guard probably had more people working on breaking German and Japanese codes.
Marine Inspection was addressed. The Commandant noted the increased demand for Inspections because 6,000 tugs have been added to inspection program. He noted a need for more stringent oversight of 3rd party inspectors, who in some cases have not been as meticulous as they should have been. He also noted that the US flag merchant fleet, notably the MSC’s Afloat Prepositioning Fleet, will need replacement, which will also raise demand for marine inspectors.
The Commandant also voiced his support for the Jones Act. He noted, we only have three shipyards building Jones Act ships in the US, and their loss would be short-sighted.
There was much discussion about the Arctic and the Icebreaker Fleet. Looks like follow-on funding for icebreaker program (at least after the first) will have to come from CG AC&I rather than the Navy budget. This may be difficult, but it is the way it should be. The chair of committee expressed his reservations about attempting to fund such big-ticket items through the DHS budget. The Commandant stated that the Coast Guard is still considering the acquisition of the commercial Icebreaker Aiviq (but apparently they are doing it very slowly–the chairman of the committee seemed a bit irritated about this).
The committee members seemed to latch onto the idea that the USCG, rather than the Navy, would be responsible for enforcing US sovereignty in the Arctic (which by US definition includes the Aleutians), and seemed to be asking if the Coast Guard was prepared to fight the Russians and/or Chinese in the Arctic. The Commandant suggested instead, that our role was to provide presence in the pre-conflict phase in order assert US sovereignty. He acknowledged that the National Security Cutters are only armed defensively and are not suitable for conventional naval warfare against an enemy combatant.
The Commandant acknowledged that, at some point it may be desirable to arm Polar Icebreakers, meaning they should be built with space, weight, and power reservations for additional weapons.
(I am all for keeping open the option of arming our icebreakers, so that they can defend themselves and do their part, if there is a conflict in a polar region, but there did not seem to be recognition among the Congression Representatives, that an Arctic conflict is most likely to be determined by submarines and aircraft. The icebreakers’ role is likely to be primarily logistical.)
The Commandant apparently does expect that there may be disagreements with regard to the extent of the US authority over certain areas of the Arctic.
In discussing the need for land based Unmanned Air Systems, there was a curious note at minute 40 about go-fast boats going south. Where are they going?
Alien Migrant Interdiction (AMIO). We have gone for seven weeks without a single Cuban Migrant being interdicted. This is because of the end of Wet Foot/Dry Foot Policy. This has allowed reallocation of resources to drug interdiction South of Cuba and human trafficking from the Bahamas
A Congressional Representative, from Texas pointed out there is no CG presence on the Rio Grande River, in spite of it being an international waterway. There was no mention of it, but perhaps he was thinking of the Falcon Lake incident in 2010 when an American was allegedly shot in the head by Mexican drug runners. Maybe something we should reconsider.
“Largely overlooked in the tribunal’s July 12 decision was a strict interpretation of which dry land is entitled to a 200-nautical-mile exclusive economic zone—the surrounding ocean where a nation has sole rights to fish, drill for oil, and search for minerals.”
“The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea doesn’t allow nations to declare exclusive economic zones around “rocks which cannot sustain human habitation or economic life of their own.” What that’s meant has never been clear. Many countries, including the U.S. and Japan, have claimed exclusive economic zones around tiny atolls and outcroppings of rock.”
“The tribunal concluded that having people live on an island doesn’t prove habitability if food and water comes from elsewhere.”
This Video does not appear to show the sinking of the fishing vessel. Speckles on the hull of the F/V seen at time 0:20 and 0:50 may be bullet holes. The video does appear to show the participants.
We have reports (here and here) that the Argentine Coast Guard (Prefectura Naval Argentina (PNA))fired on and sank a Chinese fishing vessel (F/V), the Lu Yan Yuan Yu 010, believed to have been fishing illegally, after the F/V failed to stop after shots were fired across its bow and it allegedly attempted to ram the Coast Guard vessel. The crew reportedly was rescued, without fatalities, four by the Argentine vessel and the rest of the crew by another Chinese F/V.
Photo by Diegoventu: PNA Doctor Manuel Mantilla (GC-24), a sistership of the Argentine vessel involved.
The PNA vessel seen in the video, Prefecto Durbes (GC-28) is one of five offshore patrol vessels (OPVs) built in Spain for Argentina. The Mexican Navy also has six similar vessels with larger flight decks and more powerful engines. In size they slot between the Reliance Class and the Bear Class, being 67 meters (220 feet) overall. Unlike the Reliance class, they have a hangar for their version of the H-65.
In addition to machine guns, these ships are reportedly armed with a Bofors 40mm/70, but looking at the video, the location where the gun was mounted (on the platform forward of the bridge and one deck above the foc’sle) is vacant. This suggest that the damage was probably done by .50 cal. machine guns. We know from our Vietnam experience that .50 cal. can sink fishing vessels, but the ranges are very short. Looking at the video the ships appeared to be no more than 300 yards apart.
It is a bit surprising no casualties were reported, although the reports say no fatalities, they do not say no injuries so that is still a possibility. Did the crew of the OPV order the Chinese crew to abandon before sinking the F/V, or did they perhaps tell them where they were not going to shoot so that the crew could assemble safely? It does not sound like it. We have only this statement from an Argentine representative that after actions by the Chinese vessel, “…the order was given to fire on different sections of the vessel, damaging it,” It is unlikely, but not impossible, the crew helped the ship sink to destroy any evidence of wrong doing.