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. 

“Smugglers Fake Ship Identities to Evade North Korea Sanctions” –MarineLink

This photo provided by Japan’s Maritime Self-Defense Force shows an apparent ship-to-ship transfer involving a North Korean tanker in the East China Sea.

MarineLink reports on a study that found that,

“Smugglers suspected of evading sanctions on North Korea have turned to schemes to create fraudulent identities for sanctioned ships…the group’s case studies of two ships allegedly involved in evading North Korea sanctions show how the IMO registration process can be hijacked to issue a registered identity to a non-existent vessel, which in turn can be used to disguise the identity of other ships, the report said.”

North Korea’s Ghost Fishing Fleet –It is worse than I thought

Sixty fishermen aboard this North Korean boat were rescued after it collided with a Japanese patrol vessel and sank off Japan’s Noto Peninsula in October 2019.

The Indo-Pacific Defense Forum reports on the extent of the disaster that has befallen North Korean fishermen since their government has sold fishing rights to the PRC.

“The so-called ghost ships come ashore on Japan’s coastline and increasingly along Russia’s coast, according to a mid-September 2020 report by Lenta.ru, a Russian-language online newspaper.

“Japanese authorities report that more than 500 ghost boats have landed on the nation’s coast in the past five years, with 158 in 2019, Lenta.ru reported. The unidentified bodies found aboard are buried in unmarked graves in Japanese and Russian coastal towns, the online report said.”

New Addition to “Recommended Blogs” –Indo-Pacific Defense Forum

Coast Guard Cutter Stratton (WMSL 752) sales alongside the Indian coast guard ships Abheed and Shaurya (16) Aug. 23, 2019, while transiting in the Bay of Bengal off the coast of Chennai, India. The Stratton is participating in a professional exchange with the Indian coast guard that includes operational exercises at sea and on shore. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Stephen Esterly)

I have made an addition to my “Recommended Blogs” page (which is also my daily reading list) that you may find interesting, the Indo-Pacific Defense Forum.

Below I have duplicated the self description from their “About Us” page. The page also includes contact information not duplicated here.

In addition to English, this site is also published in Chinese, Indonesian, Thai, Korean, and Japanese.

Not all the content is Coast Guard related, but it seems much of it is.

Thanks to Lee for bringing this to my attention.


About Us

IPDefenseForum.com is the online version of Indo Pacific Defense Forum magazine and is sponsored by the United States Indo-Pacific Command (USINDOPACOM).

Our Mission

Indo-Pacific Defense Forum is a professional military magazine published quarterly by the Commander of the United States Indo-Pacific Command to provide an international forum for military personnel of the Indo-Pacific areas. The opinions expressed in this magazine do not necessarily represent the policies or points of view of this command or any other agency of the United States government. All articles are written by IPD Forum staff unless otherwise noted.

The site features articles from the IPD Forum magazine staff as well as news from across the region and analysis, interviews and commentary by paid IPDefenseForum.com correspondents and contributors.

The Secretary of Defense has determined that publication of this magazine is necessary for conducting public business as required of the Department of Defense by law.

“Islands of ire: The South Korea–Japan dispute” –Baird Maritime

The Liancourt Rocks, known as Dokdo (or Tokto, 독도/獨島, literally “solitary island”) in Korean, as Takeshima (竹島, Takeshima, literally “bamboo island”) in Japanese., Author: 머찐만두 at Naver

Why two nations that should be allies cannot get along.

Baird Maritime has a short feature on the background of the dispute between Korea (both North and South) and Japan over 0.072415 square miles of rocks in the Sea of Japan. Also known as the Liancourt Rocks, they are Dokdo to the Koreans and Takeshima to the Japanese. The post also talks about other sources of bad feeling.

The US would very much like to see more defense cooperation between the two, but history and pride keep getting in the way. As an indicator of how strongly the South Koreans feel about this, they named their largest warship Dakdo after the island group.

Japan should take their case to the international tribunal and then accept the result.

Japan Fisheries Enforcement Vessel Encounters, Collides With, Sinks N. Korean F/V

Recently a drama played out between a Japanese fisheries agency ship and a North Korean fishing vessel and its crew. According to the text accompanying the YouTube,

“On October 7, a North Korean fishing boat sank after colliding with a Fisheries Agency patrol boat in the favorable fishing grounds near the Yamatotai area of Japan’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ) in the Sea of Japan.

“On October 18, the Fisheries Agency released the video recorded on the patrol boat, finally showing the sequence of events prior to and after the accident.

“The accident took place about 350 kilometers northwest of Ishikawa Prefecture’s Noto Peninsula in Japan’s EEZ. Judging the fishing boat to be operating illegally, the patrol boat began to issue warnings for the fishing vessel to leave the area at around 8:50 A.M. on October 7. When the vessel did not leave, the patrol boat started spraying the vessel with water cannons at 9:04 A.M.

“The vessel made a sudden sharp turn, and at 9:07 A.M. collided with the patrol boat. The patrol boat had taken up position on the left side of the fishing boat and had been issuing audio warnings from a distance of about 200 meters.”

The fishing vessel subsequently sank. The crew took to the water. The Japanese vessel had its boat tow liferafts over to the people in the water. Ultimately another North Korean came over and picked up the people in the water.

Since the Coast Guard is now operating in these waters, the actions of the N. Korean fishing vessel, that to our eyes are irrational, are of more than academic interest.

We can’t really know what was going through the mind of the master of the N. Korean vessel.

  • Has propaganda infused so much hate for the Japanese that the N. Koreans would strike out at them in any way they can?
  • Did they think the Japanese vessel would back down?
  • Do they even know about the concept of an Exclusive Economic Zone?
  • Or, did the helmsman just slip on the wet deck and spin the wheel left in an attempt to regain his balance?

The Japanese behavior also suggests they are wary of the N. Koreans.

  • They did not attempt to board
  • While they provided liferafts, they did not attempt to pick up survivors

“Coast Guard Cutter conducts DPRK sanctions patrol” –News Release

A small unmanned aircraft system operator recovers an sUAS (Scan Eagle–Chuck) after a flight from Coast Guard Cutter Stratton in the South China Sea Sept. 16, 2019. The sUAS is capable of flying for more than 20 hours and has a maximum speed of about 60 mph. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Nate Littlejohn.

Below is a news release regarding USCGC Stratton’s recent activities including those in support of UN sanctions against North Korea. For some time, I thought we might have a role in this. Apparently we still have not done an at sea boarding to enforce sanctions. Boardings have been authorized by the UN. That may be the next step. I have linked some previous posts for background.

In two of the photos below, the Stratton is being shadowed by China Coast Guard vessels. The one seen on the left, in the picture with Stratton’s 11 meter boat is one of the new Type 818 cutters are based on the Type 054 frigates, this class cutter is also discussed here. The China CG cutter seen in the photo right center is, I believe, one of their 12,000 ton cutters, the largest in the world. This class is discussed here, with updates in the comments. It appears to be missing the twin 76mm gun seen earlier on this class.

united states coast guard

News Release

Oct. 24, 2019
U.S. Coast Guard Pacific Area
Contact: Coast Guard Pacific Area Public Affairs
Office: (510) 437-3319
After Hours: (510) 333-6297
D11-DG-M-PACAREA-PA@uscg.mil
Pacific Area online newsroom

Coast Guard Cutter conducts DPRK sanctions patrol

Coast Guard Cutter Stratton arrives in Philippines after Yellow Sea UNSCR enforcement patrol
Coast Guard Cutter Stratton conducts Yellow Sea UNSCR enforcement patrol Coast Guard Cutter Stratton conducts Yellow Sea UNSCR enforcement patrol Coast Guard Cutter Stratton conducts Yellow Sea UNSCR enforcement patrol
Coast Guard Cutter Stratton crew conducts operations in South China Sea Coast Guard Cutter Stratton crew conducts operations in South China Sea Coast Guard Cutter Stratton conducts Yellow Sea UNSCR enforcement patrol
Coast Guard Cutter Stratton conducts Yellow Sea UNSCR enforcement patrol Coast Guard Cutter Stratton crew conducts operations in South China Sea Coast Guard Cutter Stratton crew conducts operations in South China Sea

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

PUERTO PRINCESA, Philippines —The U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Stratton (WMSL 752) pulled into Puerto Princesa October 14, for Maritime Training Activity (MTA) Sama Sama following operations in the Yellow Sea where the crew supported United Nations Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) enforcement against illicit ship-to-ship transfers that violate sanctions against the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK).

The operations are a part of the United States’ ongoing contribution to international efforts in combatting DPRK’s maritime sanctions evasion activity. Ship-to-ship transfers of fuel and goods, like coal, going to and from DPRK are prohibited under the UNSCR.

Stratton personnel captured imagery of suspected illicit ship-to-ship transfers and conducted routine activities to detect, deter, and disrupt activities in violation of UNSCR.

Maritime Training Activity (MTA) Sama Sama is a maritime exercise designed to promote regional security cooperation, maintain, and strengthen maritime partnerships and enhance maritime interoperability. This is the first year the Japanese Maritime Defense Force will participate alongside U.S. and Philippine navy counterparts.

The exercise will consist of both shore-based and at-sea activities designed to allow participating navies to advance the complex maritime training utilizing diverse naval platforms and operating areas.

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.

As both a federal law enforcement agency and an armed force, the U.S. Coast Guard is uniquely positioned to support 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.

“All of Stratton’s operations are designed in accordance with international law and demonstrate that the United States will fly, sail, and operate wherever international law allows,” said Capt. Bob Little, Stratton’s commanding officer. “That is as true in the South and East China Seas, as in other places around the globe. Our efforts in support of enforcing U.N. Security Council Resolutions in the Yellow Sea demonstrate that commitment.”

-USCG-

“North Korean Vessel Attacks Russian Patrol Boat, Wounding Three” –Maritime-Executive

Russian Maritime Border Guard patrol vessel. Photo: Alex (Florstein) Fedorov

Maritime Executive passes along a TASS report of the latest round of conflicts over fisheries between Russia and North Korea. A bit more information on an earlier incident referred to in the Maritime Executive report here.

I have to think, the three Russian Coast Guardsmen were injured in a North Korean attempt to thwart a boarding.

We really have no confirmation that the vessel pictured above and in the Maritime Executive article, was the cutter or even the type involved. We do know at least one of the class is in the Pacific, and probably more. If it was this class the North Korean action was certainly foolhardy.

The Russians are planning on building 30 of these though 2020, and the program is now more than half complete. We did discuss these back in 2011 and updates were included in the comments. They are about the size of a 210, but much faster and better armed, and in some respects better equipped. Speed is reported to be 30 knots using four diesels totaling 15,440HP. They have an AK630 six barreled 30 mm gatling gun with radar and optronic fire control They also can handle a helicopter and a Russian version of the Schiebel Camcopter S-100 UAV. More on these impressive little ships here.


Rubin-class patrol boat (Project 22460) Korall of the Russian Coast Guard

In any case this is a reminder that when we go into the Western Pacific, this is a very rough neighborhood, and that they take their fishing very seriously.

 

Japan Builds More XXLarge CG Cutters

Japan Coast Guard patrol vessel PLH32 Akitsushima. Photo by Kaidai

NavyRecognition is reporting that the Japanese Coast Guard is once again building very large coast guard cutters with the launch of Reimei (PLH 33).

Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (MHI) recently launched a brand new patrol vessel for the Japan Coast Guard (JCG). This vessel is a variant of the Shikishima-class, with two previous vessels built in 1992 and 2013. Two more vessels are also scheduled to be built in the future (emphasis applied–Chuck).

This class is going to be something of an oddity, because it looks like there will be at least 30 years between the commissioning of the first ship and the fifth. In fact the Japanese may be planning to replace the first ship of the class with the fifth (that is only speculation on my part, but the Japanese do not keep there ships nearly as long as the USCG. Referencing my Combat Fleets of the World from 2013, the Japan Coast Guard had no ships older than 35 years).

Before the Chinese built their very large Coast Guard cutters, the two earlier ships of this class, Shikishima (commissioned 1992) and her sister ship, Akitsushima (commissioned 2013), were largest cutters in the world, at 150.0m (492 ft), 9300 ton (full load), twice as large as Bertholf class cutters.

The South Koreans have also built some exceptionally large cutters. None of these ships have particularly large crews. Crews are about the same size or smaller than the crews of the Bertholf class. All seem to be good for about 25 knots and have facilities for two helicopters.

Armament:

The first two Japanese ships don’t have the 76mm guns found on the extremely large Chinese and South Korean cutters, but they are well armed for cutters with four gun mounts on each ship. There does seem to be some variation in the way the Japanese ships are armed–not too surprising considering the first two ships were commissioned 21 years apart, and seven years will separate this third ship from the second of the class.

20mm-76_Gatling_pic

Japanese 20 mm/76 Gatling Gun. Note the camera for remote targeting. JMSDF Photograph.

Just about all Japan Coast Guard cutters have the 20mm Sea Vulcan, which uses the same 20mm guns as those in the Phalanx Close in Weapon System (CIWS) but in a simpler mount. They have a 3000 round per minute rate of fire and a reported effective range of 1,625 yards (1,490 m). The first ships of the class had two mounts forward of the bridge at the O-2 deck level.

The first two ships have two mounts for the Oerlikon 35mm. These guns have a 550 round per minute rate of fire per gun and a reported effective range against surface targets of 8,700 yards (8,000 m). The first ship has two twin mounts, but it appears the second has two simplified single mounts. If the third ship follows typical Japan Coast Guard practice, the larger mounts will continue to be in the 30 to 40mm range. If on the other hand, they mount something larger, it will mark a departure for the JCG, I would assume, in response to the increased militancy of the China Coast Guard.

In the world of Asian Coast Guards, it may simply be that their large size is their primary armament. These nations seem to regularly engage in shoving matches. In at least one case, the China Coast Guard reportedly sank a Vietnamese fishing vessel by ramming.

“Coast Guard enforces North Korea sanctions in the East China Sea” –CoastGuardNews

The crew of the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Bertholf (WMSL 750) is on patrol of the Western Pacific Ocean Jan. 22, 2019. The crew aims to improve regional governance and security and enhance partner nations’ maritime capabilities. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Chief Petty Officer John Masson

Photo: The crew of the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Bertholf (WMSL 750) on patrol in the Western Pacific Ocean Jan. 22, 2019.  U.S. Coast Guard photo by Chief Petty Officer John Masson

Coast Guard News reports,

The U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Bertholf pulled into Sasebo March 3 following a deployment in the East China Sea where the crew assisted in United Nations Security Council Resolutions (UNSCR) enforcement against illicit ship-to-ship transfers that violate North Korea sanctions.

Thought something unusual was going on when Bertholf departed. Plus we have the Commandant’s Thursday State of the Coast Guard address is to include, “Coast Guard deployments to the western Pacific Ocean in support of U.S. national security and foreign policy objectives.”

Thought we might get into this. 

Note, Bertholf was enforcing sanctions in the East China Sea. It may have been less upsetting to China that this was being done by a white hull, than by a gray hull with a Coast Guard detachment on board. Probably the same would be true about upsetting the Russians on the Eastern side of the Peninsula.