“Can France’s Military Live Up to Its Ambitions in the Indo-Pacific?” –The Diplomat

French EEZ, from Wikipedia, by B1mbo

The Diplomat notes,

France has sovereignty, citizens, and broader interests at stake in the region, but its military presence remains small and outdated.

Most of the French military’s missions in the Indian and Pacific Oceans look a lot like Coast Guard missions.

Like the US they have vast holdings of EEZ in the Pacific that have been lightly patrolled and are now subject to the effects of Illegal, Unregulated, Unreported fishing. These include territory both East and West of American Samoa.

I would note that during World War II, New Caledonia was a very important logistical hub in the Pacific War. France does not have a lot of military assets in the Pacific, but they do have several strategically placed islands with port facilities and airports.

It looks like there are opportunities here for cooperation and mutual support between the US Coast Guard and French forces.


Previous reports with news effecting French forces in the IndoPacific:

European Patrol Corvette / “Spain seen joining Greece, France, Italy on European Patrol Corvette program” –DefenseNews

“France confirms order for six new POM Offshore Patrol Vessels” –Naval News, Another Cutter X

French Building OPVs D’Entrecasteaux-class patrol ship

“New Drug Seizure By The French Navy In The Gulf Of Guinea” –Naval News

Naval News reports seizure of 1.7 tons of cocaine in an unusual place, the Gulf of Guinea, off the West coast of Africa. It was apparently incidental a normal French Navy deployment, not specifically a drug interdiction operation.

I found it a bit unusual that the cocaine did not appear to be well hidden. That might indicate how unlikely interception along this route may be.

Significantly this interception was conducted in cooperation with the Gulf of Guinea Interregional Network’s centers of the Yaoundé Process.

The “Landing Helicopter Dock” (LHD) Mistral, is certainly not the type vessel typically involved in drug interdiction.

The frigate involved, FS Courbet, is a Lafayette class frigate. This class always seemed similar in function to Coast Guard WHECs, because, as built, they had no ASW capability. Aside from the Anti-Ship Cruise Missiles they carried, in many respects their capabilities were similar, particularly after the WHECs were FRAMed. The French ships were built about aboout three decades after the Hamilton class. In some ways they apear to be as an intermediate design between the Hamilton class and the Bertholfs. FS Courbet is smaller (3600 tons full load), slower (25 knots), and has less range than the Bertholf class NSCs (7,000 nmi), but has been recently upgraded with a hull mounted sonar, improved point defense AAW systems, and later model Exocet ASCMs.

Indo-Pacific Strategy of the United States

U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Munro and Japan Coast Guard Patrol Vessel Large Aso, transit together in formation during a maritime engagement in the East China Sea Aug. 25, 2021. U.S. Coast Guard members aboard the Munro deployed to the Western Pacific Ocean to strengthen alliances and partnerships and improve maritime governance and security in the region. (Photo courtesy of Japan Coast Guard)

The Whitehouse has issued a new Indo-Pacific Strategy, and it specifically mentions the US Coast Guard.

The document calls out China for its aggressive behavior,

This intensifying American focus is due in part to the fact that the Indo-Pacific faces mounting challenges, particularly from the PRC. The PRC is combining its economic, diplomatic, military, and technological might as it pursues a sphere of influence in the Indo-Pacific and seeks to become the world’s most influential power. The PRC’s coercion and aggression spans the globe, but it is most acute in the Indo-Pacific. From the economic coercion of Australia to the conflict along the Line of Actual Control with India to the growing pressure on Taiwan and bullying of neighbors in the East and South China Seas, our allies and partners in the region bear much of the cost of the PRC’s harmful behavior. In the process, the PRC is also undermining human rights and international law, including freedom of navigation, as well as other principles that have brought stability and prosperity to the Indo-Pacific.

It recognizes the value and values of our allies and partners,

For centuries, the United States and much of the world have viewed Asia too narrowly—as an arena of geopolitical competition. Today, Indo-Pacific nations are helping to define the very nature of the international order, and U.S. allies and partners around the world have a stake in its outcomes. Our approach, therefore, draws from and aligns with those of our closest friends. Like Japan, we believe that a successful Indo-Pacific vision must advance freedom and openness and offer “autonomy and options.” We support a strong India as a partner in this positive regional vision. Like Australia, we seek to maintain stability and reject coercive exercises of power. Like the ROK, we aim to promote regional security through capacity-building. Like ASEAN, we see Southeast Asia as central to the regional architecture. Like New Zealand and the United Kingdom, we seek to build resilience in the regional rules-based order. Like France, we recognize the strategic value of an increasing regional role for the European Union (EU). Much like the approach the EU has announced in its Strategy for Cooperation in the Indo-Pacific, American strategy will be principled, long-term, and anchored in democratic resilience.

It calls for action in five areas:

  1. ADVANCE A FREE AND OPEN INDO-PACIFIC
  2. BUILD CONNECTIONS WITHIN AND BEYOND THE REGION
  3. DRIVE REGIONAL PROSPERITY
  4. BOLSTER INDO-PACIFIC SECURITY
  5. BUILD REGIONAL RESILIENCE TO TRANSNATIONAL THREATS

There is mention of the Coast Guard is in the section “BOLSTER INDO-PACIFIC SECURITY” on page 13.

We will also innovate to meet civilian security challenges, expanding U.S. Coast Guard presence, training, and advising to bolster our partners’ capabilities. We will cooperate to address and prevent terrorism and violent extremism, including by identifying and monitoring foreign fighters traveling to the region, formulating options to mitigate online radicalization, and encouraging counterterrorism cooperation within the Indo-Pacific. And we will strengthen collective regional capabilities to prepare for and respond to environmental and natural disasters; natural, accidental, or deliberate biological threats; and the trafficking of weapons, drugs, and people. We will improve cybersecurity in the region, including the ability of our partners to protect against, recover from, and respond to cybersecurity incidents.

Coast Guard roles presumably extend beyond interdiction and fisheries to include assistance with intelligence, port security, and maritime industry cybersecurity.

The strategy refers to ten lines of effort that are to be pursued in the next 12 to 24 months. The first is “Drive New Resources to the Indo-Pacific” (p.15),

Building shared capacity requires the United States to make new regional investments. We will open new embassies and consulates, particularly in Southeast Asia and the Pacific Islands, and increase our strength in existing ones, intensifying our climate, health, security, and development work. We will expand U.S. Coast Guard presence and cooperation in Southeast and South Asia and the Pacific Islands, with a focus on advising, training, deployment, and capacity-building. We will refocus security assistance on the Indo-Pacific, including to build maritime capacity and maritime-domain awareness.

Sounds like this may include Coast Guard attachés attached to diplomatic staffs and possibly some new basing.

There is a second line of effort that will undoubtably involve the Coast Guard, “Partner to Build Resilience in the Pacific Islands” (p.17),

The United States will work with partners to establish a multilateral strategic grouping that supports Pacific Island countries as they build their capacity and resilience as secure, independent actors. Together, we will build climate resilience through the Pacific Region Infrastructure Facility; coordinate to meet the Pacific’s infrastructure gaps, especially on information and communications technology; facilitate transportation; and cooperate to improve maritime security to safeguard fisheries, build maritime-domain awareness, and improve training and advising. We will also prioritize finalization of the Compact of Free Association agreements with the Freely Associated States.

A Maritime Executive post, New U.S. Indo-Pacific Strategy Singles Out China’s “Coercion”, notes,

In the security arena, the new strategy reiterates that the United States has maintained “a strong and consistent defence presence necessary to support regional peace, security, stability, and prosperity”, pointing to the South China Sea and the East China Sea as a priority. However, it is interesting that while the document underscores the importance of freedom of navigation in the Indo-Pacific, not a single paragraph mentions the US Freedom of Navigation Operations Program (FONOPS) carried out by the US Navy, which has stirred controversy. Conversely, the strategy emphasises the importance of the Coast Guard to lead maritime security cooperation in the region, in “advising, training, deployment, and capacity-building … including to build maritime capacity and maritime-domain awareness”. Indeed, in 2021, the US Coast Guard announced a joint maritime training centre with the Indonesian Coast Guard in Batam.

The emphasis on coast guard cooperation can be seen as a positive gesture since it will be less provocative and sensitive compared to a military presence in the region. And more importantly, coast guard operations in Southeast Asia are very much required to tackle maritime security threats such as illegal fishing.

Thanks to Paul for bringing this to my attention. 

“Coast Guard Sails Medium Cutter North of Arctic Circle as Nanook Exercise Kicks Off” –USNI

The US Naval Institute News reports that

“The Coast Guard for the first time in years sent one of its medium-endurance cutters to the Atlantic Ocean north of the Arctic Circle, as the sea service joins the U.S. and Canadian navies for a yearly maritime exercise.”

This is Operation NANOOK-TUUGAALIK 2020, the maritime portion of Operation NANOOK. In past years, when the Coast Guard participated, we usually sent a buoy tender. I don’t believe it has ever happened before, but this year the US Navy is sending a destroyer. According to Naval Technology,

“Participating assets include USS Thomas Hudner (DDG 116) guided-missile destroyer, the Royal Canadian Navy ships HMCS Glace Bay, HMCS Ville de Quebec, and MV Asterix; DDG 116, US Helicopter Maritime Strike (HSM) 46.2, the US Coast Guard cutter USCGC Tahoma, French Navy coastal patrol vessel FS Fulmar, and the Royal Danish Navy frigate HDMS Triton.” (Photos below–Chuck)

The Navy seems to be particularly concerned about doing small boat ops in the Arctic environment.

“We’ve really heavily relied on partners, including the Coast Guard, who have recent experience operating there,” he said.

Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer USS Thomas Hudner (DDG 116) (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Brian G. Reynolds/Released)

Canadian frigate HMCS Ville de Quebec

Danish frigate HDMS Triton F358 in Reykjavik – Iceland (2016). Photo credit: CJ Sayer via Wikipedia

Royal Canadian Navy supply ship MV Asterix (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Jimmie Crockett/Released)

Canadian navy Kingston-class maritime coastal defense vessel HMCS Glace Bay (MM 701) (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Rafael Martie/Released)

FS FULMAR P740. Description: Owned by French Navy and crewed by Gendarmarie. Built as fishing vessel ‘Jonathan’1991 at Boulogne,re-built 1996/97 at Lorient for French Navy as patrol boat, LOA 39M; beam 8.5M; draught 4.7M. Displmt:680 tons full load. Note French Coastguard (AEM) stripes on bow. Vessel based on St.Pierre et Miquelon,off S.West coast Newfoundland.Photo credit © tabarly

USCGC Tahoma (WMEC-908)

France Allocates One Billion Euros to Build Ten Offshore Patrol Vessels

Marine Nationale photo, FS Lieutenant_de_vaisseau_Lavallée, one of seven 80 meter (263′) 1,270 ton D’Estienne d’Orves-class avisos or corvettes being used as Offshore Patrol Vessels that are to be replaced.

France has been building a lot of Coast Guard Cutter like vessels recently and it looks like they will be building more. Naval News reports:

Ten new generation OPVs will replace the A69 type (D’Estienne d’Orves-class) PHM (formerly Aviso / light frigates and then reclassified as patrol vessels) based in Brest (Atlantic Coast–Chuck) and Toulon (Mediterranean- Chuck) and the PSP patrol boats based in Cherbourg (English Channel-Chuck).

Cormoran (P677), one of three 23 knot, 54 meter (177′), 477 ton French navy PSP patrol boats. Brest, Finistère, Bretagne, France. Photo by Gary Houston (Notice the striping similar to that carried by USCG cutters)

The one billion Euro contract awarded to Naval Group (formerly DCNS) would mean a unit cost of approximately 100M Euros ($112M).

Rendering of the future “POM” OPV of the French Navy.

Apparently, based on price, they will be larger than the six recently contracted 70 meter, 22knot “POM” patrol vessels. (224 million euros, 37.3 Euros or about $42M each)

Not long ago Naval Group and ECA group was given a 2B Euro contract to produce twelve 2800 ton Mine Countermeasures ships for the Dutch and Belgium Navies. Given that ship yard prices for similarly complex ships tend to be proportional to their displacement, and that these ships are probably less complex than the MCM, I would suspect that the new OPVs will be about 1,680 tons. That would make them similar in size to the WMEC 270s. Given the ships they are replacing and the character of recent construction, they will probably a bit longer and faster than the 270s, probably about 90 meters long, at least 20 knots but probably more, with a flight deck for a medium helicopter like the NH90, a hangar for a smaller helicopter similar to the H-65 and probably the 700 kilo rotary wing unmanned aircraft planned for POM. There will probably be space for containers. The crew will be small by Coast Guard standards, maybe less than 50, but will likely have additional accommodations for about 30 in addition to the crew.

Weapons: It will almost certainly have the Nexter Narwhal 20 mm cannon and .50 caliber machine guns, but there is no indication if they will have anything larger. French Navy vessels that wear the “Coast Guard Stripe” apparently have no weapons larger than .50 cal. (12.7mm). The seven A69 corvettes to be replaced have 100mm guns, but these ships were not originally designed as law enforcement vessels, and once also had Exocet anti-ship cruise missiles, so a medium caliber gun may not be seen as a requirement. If they wanted to put a medium caliber gun on these at small cost, the French Navy almost certainly has numerous, surplus, still very effective 100mm guns, but their newer ships mount the Super Rapid 76mm, which weighs less than half as much. The quoted French Ministry of Armed Forces statement might suggest they see a need for stronger armament.

“In a context marked by the increase in maritime traffic and the toughening of threats at sea, patrol boats fulfill a very broad spectrum of missions: support for deterrence, presence in areas of sovereignty and interest, evacuation, protection, escort and intervention in the framework of State action at sea.”

The linked Naval News post mentions the European Patrol Corvette program as a possible basis for this program, but given their projected displacement of 3000 tons, they would be beyond the projected budget.

There is a good chance these ships will emerge as an upgraded version of the the 87 meter (285′), 1450 ton L’Adroit (above) which was sold to Argentina along with three similar ships. The Naval News post indicates that the projected cost of the new OPVs is almost twice the cost so of the L’Adroit class, but they were designed for export. Meeting Navy standards with better equipment and improved survivability can substantially increase cost. When the Royal Navy built their River Batch II OPVs it was based on OPVs originally ordered by Trinidad and Tobago. Modifying the design to meet Royal Navy standards caused a great increase in price. The three vessels were built for Trinidad and Tobago cost £150M pound (US$237.8 M). When the Royal Navy contracted for three ships that met their standards, the outwardly almost identical ships came in at a fixed price of £348 million–a few years later, but more than double the price.

“USCG’s Schultz on Halifax Forum, Budget, Pacific, Arctic” –Defense and Aerospace Report

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).

Thanks to Lee for bringing this to my attention. 

“SOCARENAM Shipyard Selected to Deliver 6 French Navy OPVs for Overseas Territories” –Naval News

Rendering of the future “POM” OPV of the French Navy

Naval News reports,

French President Emmanuel Macron announced today a procurement order of 6 new patrol vessels to be based overseas, a program known as POM in French (for patrouilleurs outre-mer).

They will be about 70 meters (230 feet) in length with a speed of 22 knots. They will be equipped with an unmanned air system (UAS) (apparently that flight deck is not really intended for helicopters).

Basing will be two ships in New Caledonia at Nouméa naval base (Pacific), two ships in La Reunion Island at Port Réunion naval base (Indian Ocean), and one ship in French Polynesia at Fare Ute Papeete (Tahiti) naval base (Pacific), basing of the sixth ship has not yet been decided.

This will be a significant upgrade over their current assets in the Western Pacific and will complement the Coast Guard’s increased presence in the area, as well as the efforts of Australia and New Zealand to curb Illegal, Unregulated, and Unreported fishing. When disaster strike, like Australia, New Zealand, and the US, the French Navy will come to the aid of their neighbors. They are developing technology to enhance maritime domain awareness, here and here.  

The French do not have the same kind of Coast Guard that the US does. The French Navy handles many coast guard type missions. Clearly they recognize the importance of these functions. These ships come on the heels of other French Navy Offshore Patrol Vessel projects, here and here.

French territory, territorial waters, and EEZ. By B1mbo, via Wikipedia

Despite the recent kerfuffle at the NATO get together, France is our oldest ally. They and the US have the largest Exclusive Economic Zones in the world.

Both the US and France benefit from a close working relationship between the US Coast Guard and the French Navy. Beside, occasional visits by Coast Guard vessels or aircraft to New Caledonia (a major base during WWII) and Tahiti might not be bad for morale.

More Coast Guard in the Western Pacific, “U.S. Coast Guard Mulling More Operations in Oceania” –USNI

COLONIA, Yap (July 4, 2019) The U.S. Coast Guard Island-class patrol boat USCGC Kiska and Mark VI patrol boats assigned to Coastal Riverine Squadron (CRS) 2, Coastal Riverine Group 1, Detachment Guam, moored in the Micronesia port of Yap. CRG 1, Det. Guam’s visit to Yap, and engagement with the People of Federated States of Micronesia underscores the U.S. Navy’s commitment to partners in the region. The Mark VI patrol boat is an integral part of the expeditionary forces support to 7th Fleet, capability of supporting myriad of missions throughout the Indo-Pacific. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Jasen Moreno-Garcia/Released)

The US Naval Institute News Service reports comments by the Commandant”

“KUALA LUMPUR — The U.S. Coast Guard is looking at longer deployments to the Western Pacific region following the successful execution of the Operation Aiga deployment to Samoa and American Samoa, commandant Adm. Karl Schultz told reporters on Monday.

This is in reference to an operations discussed in a previous post. Earlier USCGC Oliver F. Berry (WPC-1124) also supported by the USCGC Walnut (WLB-205) had completed a similar mission to the Republic of the Marshall Islands

The Commandant apparently sees this as a prototype for future operations.

“We are looking at taking that proof of concept 30-day operation and pushing that probably into a little longer duration in the future,” he said.

This is only the latest statement from Coast Guard officers at the highest levels indicating that the Coast Guard’s intent to put more emphasis on operations in the Western Pacific: the Commandant: July 23, 2019; Commander, Pacific Area: August 17, 2019.

Changes are coming that will make maintaining that presence a bit easier. Three Webber class Fast Response Cutters will replace two 110 foot WPBs in Guam, that will give CCGD14 six Webber class WPCs, three homeported in Honolulu in addition to the three in Guam. Two National Security Cutters were recently commissioned in Oahu. The switch to longer ranged J model C-130s equipped with Minotaur will make providing air reconnaissance easier and more effective.

I do have some concerns about the ability to exploit these additional Webber class. The long range WPC and WPB operations have been supported by 225 foot buoy tenders, but there are only two in the Fourteenth District, one each in Guam and Hawaii. They may have already reached their limit in the amount of support they can provide. Other large ships might be able to take on this role and aviation asset in support are certainly desirable.  A second WLB in Guam would be very useful. They are almost ideal for disaster response to small island communities, but there are no new ones being built and all are likely fully committed where they are. Some of these operations have been conducted in cooperation with assets from Australia and New Zealand. France also has interests in the region. They could provide both material support and an air element. An ultimate solution might be Offshore Patrol Cutters (OPC) based in Guam.

In order to continue NSC operations with the 7th Fleet similar to those undertake recently by Bertholf and Stratton, a third NSC in the Fourteenth district would be useful, either the potential NSC#12 or one of the five currently expected to be homeported in Charleston. The need for this, would of course, go away if we had two or three OPCs in Guam.

 

 

“French Navy to Test SOFRESUD’s IPD aboard its PAG Ships” –Naval News

Naval News reports,

An Intuitive Pointing Device (IPD) will be installed and tested aboard one of the French Navy’s PAG type patrol vessels.

We talked about this device earlier, I thought it might be used for more than just its designed purpose, perhaps even replacing our alidades.

I wanted to provide the video above, that explains some of the features of the device and better shows how it is installed.

The PAG vessels referred to in the report all operate in the Western Hemisphere, based in Martinique and French Guyana, so there is a good chance Coasties will have an opportunity to see this system, and discuss their use with their French counterparts.

According to the video the device is currently used by nine different navies, those of the UK, France, Italy, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Malaysia, Morocco, Korea, and Norway, so we might have other opportunities to take a look at it.

French Navy Guyana-based Light Patrol Vessel PLG La Confiance is Now on Active Duty

French Navy PLG light patrol vessel La Confiance in combined anti-drug training with US Coast Guard Cutter Winslow Griesser. French Navy picture.