Visiting Fiji and other Pacific Islands

Naval News points out the apparent strong interest of many nations in West Pacific island nations, “Pacific Port Visits Show Regions Growing Importance: Expert.”

Certainly the Coast Guard has been calling on a these small island nations with significant regularity.

We are not the only ones visiting.

Type 071 LSD Wuzhishan of the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) alongside in Nuku’alofa, Tonga with an Australian Canberra class LHD visible in the background. (Xinhua)

The post points to visits by USS Jackson (LCS-6), the UK’s HMS Spey (P-234), Japan’s JS Kirisame (DD-104) and India’s INS Satpura (F-48).

Somehow, I suspect of all these, the Webber class WPCs, like USCGC Oliver Henry’s recent deployment, are the most welcome, non-threatening, the right scale, not showing off, just trying to help.

“USCGC Oliver Henry (WPC 1140) concludes Operation Blue Pacific expeditionary patrol” –Forces Micronesia/Sector Guam and What It Says About Cutter X

The Sentinel-class fast response cutter USCGC Oliver Henry (WPC 1140) accesses the mooring ball in Apra Harbor Sept. 18, 2022, following more than 16,000 nautical mile patrol through Oceania. The U.S. Coast Guard is conducting a routine deployment in Oceania as part of Operation Blue Pacific, working alongside Allies, building maritime domain awareness, and sharing best practices with partner nation navies and coast guards. Op Blue Pacific is an overarching multi-mission U.S. Coast Guard endeavor promoting security, safety, sovereignty, and economic prosperity in Oceania while strengthening relationships with our regional partners. (U.S. Coast Guard photo Petty Officer 2nd Class Sean Ray Blas)

Below is a press release marking the end of an unusual patrol. We have seen several earlier press releases.

This press release gives us a bit more insight into what it took to make the patrol possible.

The Crew:

Everything I had seen earlier indicated Webber class had a crew of 24, but we have this,

“,,,with a crew of 25 and a lieutenant commanding officer”

The crew was also augmented.

“Guam’s Maintenance Assistance Team/Asset Material Manager leveraged current personnel to fill billet gaps….The Oliver Henry, which has no intrinsic medical personnel, also brought several folks aboard, including a corpsman from the U.S. Navy and a linguist from the U.S. Marine Corps…”We had HS2 Edge from HSWL Juneau and HM3 Hardnett from Naval Hospital Guam, who provided a higher level of care on board as we transited over 8,000 nautical miles down Australia. We also brought Lance Cpl. Mabrie from Hawaii, our Korean linguist aboard…We also brought MK2 Blas and YN2 Blas from Guam, who provided extra help for maintenance, photography, and administration while we were underway.”

Support: It did require something beyond routine parts supply.

“Working with U.S. Coast Guard Base Honolulu ensured the short notice delivery of $100,000 in mission-critical parts to the ship while deployed.”

Lessons Learned: 

This patrol once again demonstrated that the Webber class are exceeding our expectations, but the lessons may be more generally applicable.

It demonstrated that a ship with a crew of less than 30, much less than half that of our smallest WMECs (75 for the Reliance class), can usefully deploy and perform almost anywhere on earth, limited only by the seaworthiness of the cutter. That is not to say that a larger crew does not provide greater resiliance and opportunities to train junior personnel, but it does provide a proven minimum crew for a similarly equipped cutter, regardless of size. To this size crew we can consider the benefits of adding additional personnel for increased redundancy, self-sufficiency, resilience, damage control, training of junior personnel and additional capabilities like operating helicopters, underway replenishment, additional sensors, boats, or weapons, etc.

I think it argues for a class of cutter sized between the Webber class and the Offshore Patrol Cutters that could increase the number of more seaworthy large cutters beyond the 36 planned. Cutters with greater endurance, two boats, a flight deck, and a hangar for helicopter and/or UAS. I think we could do all that, with a crew of 50 or less, Cutter X.

Families greet the crew of the Sentinel-class fast response cutter USCGC Oliver Henry (WPC 1140) as they return to homeport in Apra Harbor Sept. 19, 2022, following a 43-day patrol across Oceania. The U.S. Coast Guard is conducting a routine deployment in Oceania as part of Operation Blue Pacific, working alongside Allies, building maritime domain awareness, and sharing best practices with partner nation navies and coast guards. Op Blue Pacific is an overarching multi-mission U.S. Coast Guard endeavor promoting security, safety, sovereignty, and economic prosperity in Oceania while strengthening relationships with our regional partners. (U.S. Coast Guard photo Petty Officer 2nd Class Sean Ray Blas)

News Release

U.S. Coast Guard Forces Micronesia / Sector Guam

USCGC Oliver Henry (WPC 1140) concludes Operation Blue Pacific expeditionary patrol

Oliver Henry arrives to Apra Harbor Crew of Oliver Henry  Families greet Oliver Henry crew
 Oliver Henry at HMPNGS Tarangau School in Manus, Papua New Guinea Oliver Henry in Pohnpei Oliver Henry in Australia

Editor’s Note: Click on the images above to view or download more including b-roll video.

SANTA RITA, Guam — The Sentinel-class fast response cutter USCGC Oliver Henry (WPC 1140) arrived at homeport in Guam, Sept. 19, following a patrol across Oceania.

“The crew of Oliver Henry just completed a 43-day historic patrol across Oceania, where we patrolled and visited ports in the Federated States of Micronesia, Papua New Guinea, and Australia. We also patrolled the exclusive economic zones of those countries and Solomon Islands during our time,” said Lt. Freddy Hofschneider, commanding officer of Oliver Henry. “Our trip was significant in that we validated the capability of the fast response cutters homeported here in Apra Harbor, Guam, showing what we can do to promote regional stability in terms of fisheries and continue to build a better relationship with our regional partners.

The crew conducted training, fisheries observations, community and key leader engagements, and a multilateral sail. They covered more than 16,000 nautical miles from Guam to Cairns, Queensland, Australia, and returned with several stops in Papua New Guinea and one in the Federated States of Micronesia.

“The fact that we can take these 154-foot ships with a crew of 25 and a lieutenant commanding officer and push them so far over the horizon, even as far as Australia — which is what Oliver Henry just did — is an incredible capability for the region,” said Capt. Nick Simmons, commander U.S. Coast Guard Forces Micronesia/Sector Guam. “I’m proud of the work the Oliver Henry did, the resiliency of the crew deployed for 43 days, and they pulled off a variety of firsts – like first-time port calls in a couple of places like Papua New Guinea and Australia. Even more than that, I am proud of the resilience of the families. Not just the families of Oliver Henry but all the families here to support them and our local community here in Guam.”

In Papua New Guinea, the crew spent time on Manus Island and Port Moresby. They visited HMPNGS Tarangau School, spent time in the community, and engaged with Papua New Guinea Defence Force and local officials.

In Cairns, they conducted engagements with Australian Defence and Home Affairs partners, the mayor of Cairns, and Cairns Regional Council representatives. They also took time to engage with the International Marine College. Upon departure, they participated in a multilateral formation sail with crews from Australia and Fiji as the other ships departed for Exercise Kakadu off Darwin.

During their stop in Pohnpei, Oliver Henry’s crew hosted the U.S. Embassy team and an FSM National Oceanic Resource Management Authority – Fisheries Compliance Division representative to cover patrol highlights and future opportunities. The Oliver Henry commanding officer visited the FSM National Police Maritime Wing headquarters to discuss multilateral efforts. Finally, members of the cutter’s engineering team conducted a subject matter expert exchange with the crew of FSS Palikir, the last active Pacific-class patrol boat, on shipboard repairs and preventative maintenance.

While not the most extended transit for these cutters, this patrol does emphasize the Service’s capability and willingness to project into the far reaches of Oceania. The U.S. Coast Guard maintains strong partnerships with the maritime forces in the region through extensive training and subject matter expert exchanges. The U.S. Coast Guard conducts routine deployments in Oceania as part of Operation Blue Pacific, working alongside Allies, building maritime domain awareness, and sharing best practices with partner nation navies and coast guards. Op Blue Pacific seeks to strengthen partnerships and execute a mission to support maritime governance and the rule of law in the region.

This patrol was possible thanks to vital shoreside support for logistics and an augmented crew. Guam’s Maintenance Assistance Team/Asset Material Manager leveraged current personnel to fill billet gaps. Working with U.S. Coast Guard Base Honolulu ensured the short notice delivery of $100,000 in mission-critical parts to the ship while deployed. The Oliver Henry, which has no intrinsic medical personnel, also brought several folks aboard, including a corpsman from the U.S. Navy and a linguist from the U.S. Marine Corps.

“We had HS2 Edge from HSWL Juneau and HM3 Hardnett from Naval Hospital Guam, who provided a higher level of care on board as we transited over 8,000 nautical miles down Australia. We also brought Lance Cpl. Mabrie from Hawaii, our Korean linguist aboard, doing sighting reports inside of other countries’ EEZs and high seas pockets,” said Lt. j.g. Marissa Marsh, executive officer on Oliver Henry. “We also brought MK2 Blas and YN2 Blas from Guam, who provided extra help for maintenance, photography, and administration while we were underway. It felt like they’d been here since day one, and the crew enjoyed the extra help; they had a good time sailing with us.”

The Oliver Henry is the 40th Sentinel-class fast response cutter. The ship was commissioned along with its sister ships, Myrtle Hazard (WPC 1139) and Frederick Hatch (1143), in Guam in July 2021. These cutters are a vital part of the U.S. Coast Guard’s enduring regional presence serving the people of the Pacific by conducting 10 of the Service’s 11 statutory missions with a focus on search and rescue, defense readiness, living marine resources protection, and ensuring commerce through marine safety and ports, waterways, and coastal security.

For more U.S. Coast Guard Forces Micronesia/Sector Guam news, visit us on DVIDS or subscribe! You can also visit us on Facebook at @USCGForcesMicronesia.

“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.

“Coast Guard Cutter Midgett arrives in the Western Pacific” –PacArea

PACIFIC OCEAN (July 30, 2022) U.S. Coast Guard Legend-class cutter USCGC Midgett (WMSL 757) transits the Pacific Ocean during Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) 2022. Twenty-six nations, 38 ships, three submarines, more than 170 aircraft and 25,000 personnel are participating in RIMPAC from June 29 to Aug. 4 in and around the Hawaiian Islands and Southern California. The world’s largest international maritime exercise, RIMPAC provides a unique training opportunity while fostering and sustaining cooperative relationships among participants critical to ensuring the safety of sea lanes and security on the world’s oceans. RIMPAC 2022 is the 28th exercise in the series that began in 1971.(U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Taylor Bacon)

Only weeks after having completed participation in RIMPAC2022, Honolulu based USCGC Midgett begins a “months-long” deployment in the Western Pacific.

News Release

August 31, 2022
U.S. Coast Guard Pacific Area

Coast Guard Cutter Midgett arrives in the Western Pacific

VIDEO: Coast Guard Cutter Midgett arrives in the Western Pacific

Coast Guard Cutter Midgett arrives in Manila, Philippines Coast Guard Cutter Midgett arrives in Manila, Philippines Coast Guard Cutter Midgett arrives in Manila, Philippines
Coast Guard Cutter Midgett arrives in Manila, Philippines Coast Guard Cutter Midgett arrives in Manila, Philippines Coast Guard Cutter Midgett arrives in Manila, Philippines

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

MANILA, Philippines – The U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Midgett (WMSL 757) arrived in Manila Tuesday for its first international port call during the crew’s months-long Western Pacific deployment to the region.

Midgett’s crew will conduct professional exchanges and operate with the Philippine Coast Guard as part of an at-sea search-and-rescue exercise while in Manila, building upon the strong partnership between the two nations.

Midgett is operating in support of United States Indo-Pacific Command, which oversees military operations in the region.

Operating under the tactical control of Commander, U.S. 7th Fleet, the cutter’s crew plans to engage in professional and subject matter expert exchanges with regional partners and allies and will patrol and operate as directed during their Western Pacific deployment.

The Coast Guard provides expertise within the mission sets of search and rescue; illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing; maritime environmental response; maritime security; maritime domain awareness; aviation operations; interoperability; and humanitarian assistance and disaster relief.

As both a federal law enforcement agency and a branch of the armed forces, the Coast Guard is uniquely positioned to conduct non-escalatory defense operations and security cooperation 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.

“Engaging with our Philippine Coast Guard partners is truly an honor,” said U.S. Coast Guard Capt. Willie Carmichael, commanding officer of the Midgett. “Together we will continue to build strong relationships and learn from each other. Our deep-rooted partnership will combine the best of both our Coast Guards and the planned search-and-rescue exercise and professional exchanges are a great opportunity for us keep the Indo-Pacific region open and free.”

The U.S. Coast Guard has a 150-year enduring role in the Indo-Pacific. 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.

Since 2019, the Coast Guard Cutter Bertholf (WMSL 750), Stratton (WMSL 751), Waesche (WMSL 751) and Munro (WMSL 755) have deployed to the Western Pacific.

Commissioned in 2019, Midgett is one of two Coast Guard legend-class national security cutters homeported in Honolulu. National security cutters 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.

Midgett is the second cutter named after Rear Admiral John Midgett, whose family has a long legacy in the Coast Guard and our services precursor – the U.S. Life Saving 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 Pacific Islands” –Congressional Research Service (CRS) Report

Estimated exclusive economic zones (EEZs) of Pacific Island countries and territories (PICTs). The EEZs of countries that are the Parties to the Nauru Agreement are shown in darker blue. Note that not all EEZs of PICTs have been officially delineated under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. Source: Patrick Lehodey

The Congressional Research Service (CRS) has published a two page “IN FOCUS” brief on “The Pacific Islands” of Micronesia, Melanesia, and Polynesia. Like all my links to CRS reports, this link will always take you to the latest version. It has already been updated at least once, 17 August, 2022.

Given the increased Coast Guard activity in the region, the report may provide useful background. The topics discussed are:

  • Overview
  • Geopolitical Context
  • The United States and the Region
  • The Freely Associated States
  • International Assistance
  • China’s Influence
  • Security Challenges
  • Self Determination

“Coast Guard Cutter Stratton returns to Alameda following 97-day South Pacific patrol” –News Release

U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Stratton (WMSL 752) participates in a exercise with the Australian maritime surveillance aircraft in the South Pacific Ocean, Feb. 23, 2022. The Stratton is currently underway conducting exercises and operations with partner nations in the South Pacific region. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by U.S. Marine Corps Sgt. Sarah Stegall)

Just a news release, but it is about one of those increasingly common long deployments to the Western Pacific. Notable are the use of the small unmanned air system, presumably Scan Eagle, shiprider program with Fiji, and laying the ground work for a shiprider program with Papua New Guinea.

220130-N-CD319-1014 SOUTH PACIFIC OCEAN (Jan. 30, 2022) The Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Sampson (DDG 102) participates in Divisional Tactics (DIVTAC) formations with U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Stratton (WMSL 752) and British Royal Navy ship HMS Spey (P 234). Sampson is positioned to conduct lifesaving actions in support of disaster relief efforts in Tonga. The ship is operating in support of the Australian Defence Force (ADF). The Australian Government response is coordinating closely with France and New Zealand under the FRANZ partnership, alongside Fiji, Japan, United Kingdom and the United States to assist Tonga in its time of need. Sampson is on a scheduled deployment in the U.S. 7th Fleet area of operations to enhance interoperability with alliances and partnerships while serving as a ready-response force in support of a free and open Indo-Pacific region. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Tristan Cookson)

News Release

March 21, 2022
U.S. Coast Guard Pacific Area

Coast Guard Cutter Stratton returns to Alameda following 97-day South Pacific patrol

Photo of CGC Stratton Photo of CGC Stratton Photo of boarding
Photo of boarding Photo of Fiji press event Photo of boarding

Editors’ Note: Click on images above to download high resolution versions. Additional photos are available here.

ALAMEDA, Calif. — The crew of Coast Guard Cutter Stratton (WMSL 752) returned to Alameda Saturday after completing an Operation Blue Pacific Patrol in the south Pacific.

While underway, Stratton’s crew worked with Pacific partner nations, including Fiji, France, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Australia, and the United Kingdom on an array of missions and prioritized combating Illegal, Unreported, and Unregulated fishing on the high seas or in partner nations’ exclusive economic zones.

In the effort to combat IUU fishing, Stratton teams boarded 11 vessels during the 20,348-mile patrol and found 21 violations.

“Our collaboration with our partners and utilization of our shiprider agreements gave us the ability to accomplish our mission of combatting illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing in order to maintain regional stability and protect the fishing industry,” said Capt. Steve Adler, Stratton’s commanding officer. “By bringing aboard shipriders from Fiji, we were able to patrol their exclusive economic zones to better assist them in enforcing their maritime laws.”

In February, Stratton embarked three shipriders from Fiji with representatives from the Fiji Revenue and Customs Services, the Fiji Ministry of Fisheries, and the Republic of Fiji Navy, who led bilateral enforcement efforts for Stratton to patrol their exclusive economic zones.

There is a shared interest for both Fiji and the United States, as well as other partner nations, to protect fisheries as they provide a renewable source of food and income to the Pacific nations.

The Stratton crew also used small Unmanned Aircraft Systems to increase the ship’s capabilities and further extend the cutter’s patrol area.

“Stratton’s capacity for employing cutting edge technology like sUAS, gives the Coast Guard the upper hand in the fight against IUU fishing,” said Cmdr. Charter Tschirgi, Stratton’s executive officer. “The vast area covered during patrols like these displays the reach the Coast Guard has and the length we will go to assist our partners in the Pacific.”

Stratton visited multiple countries while deployed, including Tahiti, Fiji, and Papua New Guinea. While in Suva, Fiji, Stratton hosted a joint media engagement with the Fijian Permanent Secretary for Ministry of Defense, Manasa Lasuma, and the Fijian Permanent Secretary for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Yogesh Karan. While anchored in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea, Stratton also hosted an engagement and law enforcement demonstration in conjunction with U.S. Ambassador Erin McKee and representatives of Papua New Guinea: Chief Inspector Christopher Smith, Terry Udu, Moses Teng, Hiribuma Dabuma, MAJ Norbeth Fehi, and Ivan Salonica. This discussion and demonstration of law enforcement operations and regional partnerships helped facilitate a future signing of a bilateral shiprider agreement between Papua New Guinea and the United States.

“Communicating with our allies face-to-face is extremely valuable,” said Ensign Alexander Mastel, Stratton’s public affairs officer. “With IUU fishing replacing piracy as the leading global maritime security threat, it is more important than ever to join efforts in ensuring economic security in the Pacific.”

While on patrol, Stratton’s crew also participated in multiple joint exercises with partners in the region. These included a formation sailing with the HMS Spey, a tactical maneuvering drill with HMS Spey and USS Sampson, a joint patrol with an Australian Border Force patrol aircraft, fueling-at-sea with New Zealand’s newest replenishment vessel HMNZS Aotearoa, and joint steaming with the French Naval vessel FMS Arago and Fijian Patrol vessel Savenaca.

“Partnerships across the Pacific are the key to success in combatting illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing. I am extremely proud of the crew for demonstrating tremendous success in partnering and operating with our regional partners and allies across Oceania, including navies and law enforcement officials from French Polynesia, Fiji, Papua New Guinea, New Zealand, Australia, and the United Kingdom,” said Adler. “Only by building these continued relationships and joint operations with patrols like Stratton’s Operation Blue Pacific will we be able to truly make a difference and impact against the global problem of IUU fishing. By training with our partners, we further our interoperability and cooperation, ultimately advancing a peaceful, free and open Indo-Pacific.”

“Indonesia spearheading regional cooperation in South China Sea” –Indo-Pacific Defense Forum

Indonesian Maritime Security Agency vessel KN Tanjung Datu, left, sails alongside U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Stratton during joint exercises in the Singapore Strait in August 2019. IMAGE CREDIT: PO1 LEVI READ, USCG

The Indo-Pacific Defense Forum reports,

Indonesia is reaching out to its South China Sea neighbors to foster harmony on maritime sovereignty issues and enhance cooperation among regional coast guards, analysts say. The nation engaged closely with Vietnam in late 2021 and plans to add five countries to the collaborative effort in 2022.

It appears Indonesia is working with its SE Asian neighbors to resolve their bilateral maritime territorial disputes based on UNCLOS and develop multi-lateral agreement.

This would allow the ASEAN nations to present a united front, to push back against China’s expansive claims. It might even lead to something like my proposed Combined Maritime Security Task Force.

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. 

“Iran Boosts IRCG Navy’s Swarm Attack Capabilities” –Naval News

110 speed boats entered service with the IRGC Navy (IRIB News picture)

Naval News reports,

According to the Iranian news outlet IRIB News, the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) Navy received 110 indigenously made combat speedboats on December 11 during a ceremony in Bandar Abbas….

“This is the seventh delivery of such vessels. Their speed has climbed from 55 knots to 75 and 90 knots, with the next stage reaching 110 knots. The boats are equipped with missiles and rockets and are capable of operating efficiently under the IRGC’s indigenous radar network.”

It’s not impossible the Iranians are employing deception tactics and may be redelivering boats seen in previous delivery media events, but there is little doubt, they do have a lot of fast attack craft, making the Coast Guard’s PATFORSWA operating area a rough neighborhood. (More here, here, here, here, and here.)

Considering if PATFORSWA is ever in a fight with the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corp Navy, the cutters will probably be protecting tankers or Navy high value units. In that case, frankly I think most of the smaller craft are intended as a diversion, the primary threats are the missile and torpedo equipped boats that will screened by a cloud of smaller boats. Still machineguns and rockets mounted on small boats could damage the cutters.

If you want to consider if we can deal with the Iranian tactics, you might want to look at this earlier post, Guns vs the Swarm.

“Coast Guard cutter returns home following Western Pacific deployment” –News Release

Coast Guard Cutter Munro (WMSL 755) crewmember Petty Officer 2nd Class Kurt Chlebek, a boatswains mate, is greeted by his dog after Munro returned to their homeport in Alameda, California, Oct. 20, 2021, following a 102-day, 22,000 nautical mile multi-mission deployment. Munro’s crew departed Alameda in July for a Western Pacific patrol and operated in support of United States Indo-Pacific Command, which oversees military operations in the region. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Chief Petty Officer Matt Masaschi.

Wrap-up of USCGC Munro’s recent deployment to the Western Pacific.

united states coast guard

News Release

Oct. 20, 2021
U.S. Coast Guard Pacific Area

Coast Guard cutter returns home following Western Pacific deployment

Photo of U.S. and Japan Coast Guard vessels
Coast Guard Cutter Munro crew returns home following 102-day, 22,000 nautical mile multi-mission Western Pacific deployment Coast Guard Cutter Munro crew returns home following 102-day, 22,000 nautical mile multi-mission Western Pacific deployment

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

Alameda, Calif. – The U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Munro (WMSL 755) and crew returned to their Alameda homeport Wednesday following a 102-day, 22,000-nautical-mile deployment to the Western Pacific.

Munro departed Alameda in July to the Western Pacific to operate under the tactical control of U.S. Navy 7th Fleet to promote a free and open Indo-Pacific.

“Munro’s deployment demonstrated the Coast Guard’s unique authorities in support of the Indo-Pacific command,” said Vice Adm. Michael F. McAllister, commander Coast Guard Pacific Area. “Joint operations help strengthen our partnerships through search and rescue, law enforcement, marine environmental response and other areas of mutual interest which preserve a stable and secure global maritime environment.”

Munro’s crew executed numerous cooperative engagements, professional exchanges and capacity building efforts with naval allies and partners, including the Japan Coast Guard, Japan Maritime Self Defense Force, Philippine Coast Guard and Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic ResourcesRoyal Australian Navy, and Indonesia Maritime Security Agency.

“Our relationships in the Western Pacific are stronger today, and our partners are unified in their commitment to security,” said Capt. Blake Novak, commanding officer of Munro. “It was an incredible opportunity for our crew to participate alongside allies, sharing search and rescue and law enforcement concepts to promote peace, prosperity, and the sovereign rights of all nations.”

As both a federal law enforcement agency and an armed force, the U.S. 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.

Munro is one of four 418-foot national security cutters homeported in Alameda. National security cutters like Munro feature advanced command and control capabilities, aviation support facilities, stern cutter boat launch, and increased endurance for long-range patrols, enabling the crews to disrupt threats to national security further offshore.

Photos from the Munro’s deployment are available here.