“Use the Coast Guard for Freedom of Navigation Operations” –USNI

USCGC Stratton (WMSL-752), left, and the U.S. Navy Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS McCampbell (DDG-85) maneuver in formation during Talisman Sabre 2019 on July 11, 2019. US Navy Photo

The December 2021 issue of US Naval Institute Proceedings has an article that suggests, “NSCs and OPCs are ideal vessels to take over FONOPs.”

Why do the authors, two Navy LCdr. and a Marine Capt., think this? They contend:

  • Their destroyers are overworked.
  • The Navy is having a hard time keeping their ships maintained.
  • Cutters are less intimidating
  • and less expensive
  • If the Chinese start playing bumper boats with Destroyers, they might damage expensive equipment. “…if a ship from the Chinese Navy, Coast Guard, or maritime militia were to ram a U.S. vessel conducting a FONOP, the ensuing visuals, narratives, and potential loss of combat capability would be starkly different between a Navy gray hull and a Coast Guard white hull.”

They talk about using LCS as an alternative, but then denigrate the possibility,

The Navy has rightfully used littoral combat ships (LCSs) to conduct limited FONOPs in the South China Sea, somewhat relieving overworked destroyers like the USS John S. McCain. However, the smaller LCS’s myriad of problems, curtailed acquisition numbers, and early retirement of the first four hulls mean the Navy will soon have to lean even more heavily on larger and generally older ships. With only 10 to 14 cruisers and destroyers available to Seventh Fleet at any given time, the Navy can ill-afford to use these high-demand, low-density, Aegis ships for FONOPs.

This, in spite of the fact, that LCS have only recently begun making regular deployments to the Western Pacific and LCSs are being added to the fleet at a rate of four per year.

First, I have no problem with Cutters doing FONOPs when they are in the Western Pacific, but that should not be the only reason, they are there.

US Navy ships are not overworked. That is a fiction. Having looked at the “USNI News Fleet and Marine Tracker” over many years, I can say, Navy ships are typically deployed about one third of the time, and they are underway only about 25% of the time, far less than Coast Guard cutters. That is not to say the people are not overworked, by burdensome administrative and overly broad qualification requirements for their junior officers. The ships are behind in maintenance because of lack of support, not time underway. Ships don’t need to spend 75% of their time, tied up in maintenance, to remain effective.

In war time, well over half the navy should be underway and forward deployed. The fact that they cannot support a much smaller forward presence, of which much of the time is not underway, in peacetime, points to a serious deficit in the Navy’s support structure. Where are the repairs ships, the tenders, the floating dry docks that allow a navy to be truly expeditionary?

If the Navy does not want to use carriers, cruisers, or destroyers for FONOPs because they are afraid of having them damaged, there are other alternatives. They could use amphibs: LHAs, LHDs, LPDs, and LSDs. They could use Military Sealift Command ships. MSC ships are clearly not as intimidating as carriers, cruisers, and destroyers. Were they to be damaged “the ensuing visuals, narratives, and potential loss of combat capability would be starkly different…” 

I would suggest using the new Navaho class tug and salvage ships. They are an excellent choice for playing bumper boats. They have strong steel hulls and are powerful enough to tow a nuclear-powered carrier. Their hulls are reinforced to allow hull to hull contact with other ships. Plus, they are a lot less expensive. Even less expensive than a Coast Guard cutter.

But really, using tugs or cutters to do FONOP kind of misses the point. The Chinese and the Russians are not upset because foreign ships are transiting waters they claim. They are upset because foreign warships are transiting the waters the claim. If we stop sending warships into the waters they claim, we are creating a defacto case that they have a right to such exclusion. That Coast Guard cutters may not be considered warships would weaken our case that, foreign warships in these waters is the norm.

“Chinese Assessment of New U.S. Naval Strategy” –USNI

The US Naval Institute news service provides a translation of a Chinese review of the Tri-Service Naval Strategy, “Advantage at Sea.”

It is, in my view, a surprisingly even handed evaluation. Not that it does not reflect the Chinese position, but it is at least fairly accurate.

One particular paragraph references the US Coast Guard.

Third, the U.S. will also introduce a new style of struggle, namely, it will bolster competition in the “gray zone.” That is, the U.S. will take greater action in the domains of social media; supply chains, especially defense industry chains; and space and cyber. A fairly obvious early indicator of this was that the USCG—which traditionally operates in the vicinity of the U.S. coast to defend the security of U.S. territory—has recently moved forward into the South China Sea region. It is preparing to conduct military operations in the South China Sea, with the aim of striking China’s maritime forces as well as bolstering joint law enforcement with regional states in the South China Sea, in order to respond to China’s South China Sea rights protection operations.

The idea of the USCG moving into the South China Sea “with the aim of striking China’s maritime forces” is a bit far fetched, but the rest is reasonably accurate and reflects the Strategy’s recognition of the Coast Guard as uniquely qualified to counter aggression in the “Gray Zone.”

“Huge New Chinese Ships Are Made For Ramming” –Forbes

Forbes suggests that the Chinese are planning to use some of their new ships to shoulder US ships.

Those flat sides aren’t an aesthetic choice, according to Jerry Hendrix, an American naval expert and author of the new book To Provide and Maintain a Navy. They’re for what sailors calls “shouldering.” That is, muscling into a rival ship and forcing it to change course.

Given that the Coast Guard is sending ships into the Western Pacific and participating in Freedom of Navigation Exercises, this threat is significant for us.

I have a lot of respect for Jerry Hendrix. I bought his book. But first, of course, most ships incorporate flat sides over a significant length simply because it is the cheapest construction method. Our National Security Cutters may have stealth incorporated in their design, but look at the OPCs.

OPC “Placemat”

The article specifically calls out two classes of Chinese ships as likely to be used for shouldering, the Type 055, which is a cruiser or large destroyer, and the “Chinese coast guard’s patrol ship Haixun.”

I certainly would not dispute the Chinese’s propensity for employing shouldering or even ramming. They have employed these techniques in enforcing their claims of sovereignty over the South China Sea, as identified by their still ill defined “nine dash line,” but I think they have called out the wrong ships.

Artist impression of 10,000 tons class patrol vessel Haixun

Haixun is not part of China Coast Guard, it is a unit of the China Maritime Safety Administration which is their SAR agency. This agency has not been used for law enforcement.

The Type 055 is a very well equipped combatant and probably one of the most expensive units in the Chinese Navy. Her hull is not unusual and not a significant departure from that of the preceding Type 052D class. Their sides are not particularly flat. They are not units the Chinese would risk damaging.Zhaotou class cutter Haijing 2901. Photo from http://defence-blog.com/news/photos-charge-of-the-10000-ton-china-coast-guard-cutter.html

Any of the China Coast Guard units could be used for shouldering or even ramming, but their heavy weights are two ships of the Zhaotou class, Haijing 2901 and Haijing 3901. These are the world’s largest Cutters and probably over 12,000 tons full load–about three times the size of the National Security Cutters. They are also capable of 25 knots.

china-defense.blogspot.com

The post suggests that the Mumford Point class T-ESDs and ESBs, based on a double hull tanker design would be an appropriate counter, but while they are large (60,000 tons and 785 ft (239 m) long), they are also slow (15 knots), not very powerful for their size (24 MW or about 32,000 HP), and not very maneuverable.

If we had more icebreakers, we might want to send one of them. We know what can happen when a lightly built ship plays bumper boats with an ice class vessel.  On the other hand, the Chinese have started building icebreakers and ice strengthened merchant vessels, so we might want to keep that in mind.

Maybe the Navy has another reason to consider ice-strengthened ships.

“China Coast Guard to be allowed to use force in case of territorial infringement” –People’s Liberation Army Daily

This Chinese People’s Liberation Army Daily post concerning use of deadly force, linked here, may be particularly interesting for its call out of the US Coast Guard.

Law enforcement on land, sea and in airspace under its own jurisdiction, with the use of weapons on necessary occasions, are the rights granted to sovereign states by international law. The Japan Coast Guard (JCG) also stipulates that lethal weapons can be used when enforcing the law in waters under its own jurisdiction. For the US Coast Guard (USCG), the use of force is even more common, and it is even planning to apply long-arm jurisdiction to China.

Admiral Karl Schultz, Commandant of the USCG, claimed to strengthen deployment in the Asia-Pacific region and participate in security patrols in the waters surrounding China in response to Chinese maritime militia’s declaration of sovereignty in the South China Sea in April last year. Robert O’Brien, US National Security Advisor, announced on October 24 that the USCG would deploy Enhanced Response Cutters in the Western Pacific. . Without providing any evidence, he accused Chinese fishing boats of illegal fishing and claimed that the sovereignty of the United States and its neighbors in the Pacific had thus been threatened.

If they should choose to employ force against one of our cutter in their claimed “Nine Dash Line,” it is likely they would attempt to get several units in at very close range before opening fire, as they did in this engagement.

Chinese depiction of the fighting Battle of Paracels Islands

Next time we send a cutter into this area, it might be a good idea to have a squad of Marines along armed with shoulder fired missile or rocket launchers.

Might also be a good idea to provide a bit of ballistic protection (and here) for our .50 cal. gun crews. Not too difficult because you can buy it on the GSA catalog.

Most China Coast Guard Cutters are not as well armed or as fast as the Bertholfs, but there are exceptions. In all likelihood they would be more interested in causing casualties and chasing us off, than actually sinking a cutter. This is more likely to serve their purpose without getting themselves in a war. Not that I think such an attack would go unanswered, but they, or a mid-level commander, might be foolish enough to think they could get away with it. Still probably better not to have a lone cutter doing “Freedom of Navigation Operations,” although air cover might be sufficient. Really I would like to see an international repudiation of their claims in the form of an multi-national demonstration.

Combinations of CCG cutters with weapons larger than 14.5mm machine guns could be extremely dangerous at close range. Some of those are shown below.

The China CG version of the Type 056 Corvette

 

China Coast Guard Cutters Converted  from Type 053H2G frigates

“Cooperative Maritime Law Enforcement and Overfishing in the South China Sea” –CIMSEC

Republic of Korea Coast Guard vessel #3006 in company with U.S. Coast Guard cutter USCGC Boutwell (WHEC-719) during the North Pacific Coast Guard Forum in August 2007. This forum was created to increase international maritime safety and security in the Northern Pacific Ocean and its borders. The Boutwell worked with the Korean coast guard while on their way to Yokosuka, Japan. The Japanese coast guard is one of the six nations involved in the forum.

CIMSEC brings us a discussion of the possibility of cooperative fisheries enforcement in the South China Sea to stop both overfishing and Illegal, Unregulated, Unreported (IUU) fishing and perhaps bring China into a more mutually beneficial relationship with her neighbors.

Earlier, I had a suggestion about how we might form an instrument of cooperative enforcement by forming a “Combined Maritime Security Task Force Pacific,” a law enforcement alliance rather than a military one.

Probably before that could be fully realized, the various nations with competing claims to the waters of the South China Sea, need to take their claims to the UN’s International Tribunal. The more nations use it, the more pressure on China to participate. If, they do not present a cases before the international their claims will be weakened.

 

“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. 

Stratton Goes To 7th Fleet, Waesche Goes South, All Four Alameda NSCs Underway

The Coast Guard Cutter Stratton passes underneath San Francisco’s Bay Bridge as Stratton and the crew depart on a months-long deployment to the Western Pacific in support of the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, June 12, 2019. Operating under the tactical control of the U.S. 7th Fleet commander, Stratton and crew are scheduled to engage in professional exchanges and capacity-building exercises with partner nations in the Western Pacific and to patrol and operate as directed. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Matthew S. Masaschi.

The following is a PACAREA press release 

ALAMEDA, Calif. – The Coast Guard Cutters Stratton and Waesche set sail Wednesday for months-long deployments to opposite ends of the Pacific. With their departure, all four of the national security cutters homeported in Alameda are currently on patrol.

The crew aboard the Waesche departed for a months-long deployment to the Eastern Pacific Ocean to conduct counterdrug operations. Earlier this year, Waesche returned to Alameda following a 95-day counterdrug patrol where the crew had two at-sea interdictions, seizing more than 6,300 pounds of cocaine.

Stratton deployed to the Western Pacific Ocean where the Alameda-based Coast Guard Cutter Bertholf has been since departing the Bay Area in January. Stratton will operate in support of U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, which oversees military operations in the Western Pacific.

Operating under the tactical control of U.S. 7th Fleet, Stratton is scheduled to engage in professional exchanges and capacity-building exercises with partner nations and to patrol and operate as directed.

“The Coast Guard’s deployment of resources to the Indo-Pacific directly supports the United States’ goal to strengthen maritime governance, safety, and security across the region, and we do that by working with, and learning from, our many partners and partner nations in the region,” said Vice Adm. Linda Fagan, commander, Coast Guard Pacific Area, who oversees the cutter.

“The United States is a Pacific nation, and the Coast Guard has been operating in the pacific for over 150 years. We have developed long-standing partnerships with nations in the region, and we share a strong commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific governed by a rules-based international system that promotes peace, security, prosperity, and the sovereignty of all nations.”

As both a federal law enforcement agency and an armed force, the Coast Guard is uniquely positioned to conduct defense operations in support of combatant commanders on all seven continents. The service routinely provides forces in joint military operations worldwide, including the deployment of cutters, boats, aircraft and deployable specialized forces.

“We are a military service, we are also a law enforcement organization, a regulatory agency, a first response agency, and a member of the intelligence community,” said Fagan. “We are at all times a military force and at all times a law enforcement force. This duality of our authorities provides an incredible degree of flexibility and access and authority. The Coast Guard’s distinct authorities and missions means that we provide a mix of expertise and capabilities that no other U.S. agency can.”

Coast Guard Island in Alameda is the homeport to four Coast Guard legend class national security cutters. NSCs 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. These multi-mission cutters and crew are capable of operating from the Bering Sea to the Eastern Pacific Ocean to the South China Sea.

National security cutters 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.

The Coast Guard is scheduled to commission its seventh and eighth national security cutters, the Coast Guard Cutters Kimball and Midgett, in August. Both cutters will be homeported in Honolulu and enhance the Coast Guard’s presence throughout the Indo-Pacific region.

“U.S. Bulks Up Coast Guard in Pacific to Counter China Fleet” –Bloomberg

USCGC Stratton moored in San Diego, California. Photo by BryanGoff

Bloomberg reports indication USCGC Stratton is following USCGC Bertholf’s example, voyaging to the Western Pacific to help allies and provide a counter to Chinese aggressive maritime behavior. Other cutters likely to follow. Looks like this may be the new normal.

“VIDEO: Russian Destroyer Put U.S. Cruiser at Risk with ‘Unsafe’ Maneuver” USNI

US Naval Institute brings us a report on an encounter between a US cruisers, USS Chancellorsville and a Russian Udaloy class large anti-submarine vessel (destroyer).

Both are large surface combatants, with the Russian nearly as large as the cruiser. Both are gas turbine powered and about 30 years old.

Looking at the wakes of the ships, it appears to me the Russian did in fact change course to close the Chancellorsville and veered away only at the last moment. I do not see in the video the crash stop by Chancellorsville that was reported. Looks almost like they are ready to conduct a highline drill. Maybe the Russian would like to trade movies. 

With Coast Guard cutters operating in the South China Sea we can probably expect that they may encounter similar behavior from the Chinese and Russians.