The Indo-Pacific Defense Forum has a nice piece about cooperative efforts to curb Illegal, Unreported, Unregulated (IUU) fishing. USCG gets a lot of credit.
Category Archives: Western Pacific
Chinese Navy Submarine and Major Surface Ship Order of Battle
Below are some info-graphics provided by Sarah Kirchberger on the CIMSEC Internal Discussions Facebook page. I wanted to share them with you. (Not included in the listings are Chinese aircraft carriers, amphibs, and numerous frigates, corvettes, and other small combatants.) I have also provided her notes included with the three Facebook posts, but first some observations.
What does this have to do with the Coast Guard?
My expectation is that, if there is a major prolonged conflict with the Chinese, that the primary theater of operations will be inside and around the “First Island Chain” with Taiwan the critical center (Think Malta in the Mediterranean during WWII). The Chinese surface fleet is not likely to make significant operations outside this area. Chinese conventional submarines will also concentrate in this area but will also operate in the Straits that access the South and East China Seas.
The Chinese will make air and missile attack out to at least the “Second Island Chain,” including Guam.
The Chinese will want to attack US logistics and underway replenishment ships outside the Second Island Chain, both for the direct effect of reducing logistics available and for the secondary effect of drawing off units from the primary theater of action.
In the initial phase, the Chinese merchant and fishing fleets might be used to lay mines or even directly attack unarmed logistics and underway replenishment ships using containerized weapon systems supported by satellite targeting. (They might also launch cruise missiles into US ports as an opening salvo.) The Coast Guard Maritime Domain Awareness systems and cargo tracking programs will have a role in neutralizing the Chinese Merchant and distant fishing fleets.
The Chinese will operate at least some of their nuclear submarines (SSNs) (which would have difficulty dealing with USN SSNs) outside the Second Island Chain, perhaps as far East as the US West Coast. While MSC has been told not to expect escorts, the benefits of cutters with embarked Navy (probably Navy Reserve) ASW helicopters (and ultimately towed array systems) within effective helicopter range of a dispersed group of logistics ships to provide at least minimal ASW protection and rescue for the crews of the ships that are inevitably sunk, will quickly become evident. The cutters would hopefully be aided by Navy P-8 maritime patrol aircraft and any combatants making the transit trans-Pacific.
(None of the above reflects anything official, it is just the logic of the geography and the capability of the participants.)
Incidentally the format use below would be a good way for the Coast Guard to present its plans for major cutters.
Now to the Kirchberger posts:
After a long pause in making these info graphics, here is an overview of the *approximate* type and age structure of Chinese nuclear-powered submarines. I am decidedly less confident than with the surface fleet graphs about the accuracy of the information, which is why it took so long. Basically, I have decided to just visualize the data given in Manfred Meyer’s book ‘Modern Chinese Maritime Forces’ (March 2023 update) with some minor adjustments based on cross-checking with own research in Chinese newspaper reports. Despite the caveat, the graph might be useful to some, therefore posting it. I will periodically update as more information becomes available.
Blue arrow means boat is (most likely) in service as of April 2023, white means not yet or not any more in service, but may already be launched. Striped means: status unknown.
Feel free to use and republish (unaltered) with attribution. In case you find mistakes, I’d appreciate a note so I can make corrections during the next round!
Here is now also a visual overview of the PLA Navy’s conventionally powered submarine fleet. Blue arrow means boat is most likely in service as of April 2023, white arrow means not yet, or not any more, but may already be launched. The teal color indicates boats equipped with a (Stirling) AIP. Does not include test submarines (such as the Type 032), the unknown type sailless submarine, nor midget submarines.
The speed of naval shipbuilding in China is such that it is easy to overlook that China has earlier this year commissioned the eighth and last of Flight 1 of its new cruiser, the Type 055 (never mind that the PLAN refers to it as a destroyer – at >12,000t full load, 180m length, and given its armament, it looks like a cruiser more than a destroyer).
USCGC Stratton Headed for the Western Pacific
American Military News reports, “Coast Guard cutter changes command in Honolulu en route to South China Sea.”
I don’t think there is anything unexpected or surprising here, but it does provide a good overview and perspective on what the five Pacific Area cutters of this class have been doing.
It also notes another ship of this class, USCGC “Kimball is currently dry-docked at Pacific Shipyards International in Honolulu Harbor for its first maintenance period since it first arrived in Hawaii in 2018.”
“Coast Guard to Send Additional Cutter to Hawaii” –Military.com
Military.com reports USCGC Harriet Lane is to be the new “Indo-Pacific Support Cutter,” and that she will be based in Honolulu beginning early FY2024. This is a change of homeport from Portsmouth, VA.
We knew this was coming, and Harriet Lane was the likely candidate. She will be the only WMEC 270 in the Pacific and will be used to counter Illegal, Unregulated, Unreported (IUU) fishing in the US EEZ and that of our friends and allies. They will also probably do a lot of training with friendly maritime law enforcement agencies. Her capabilities are a good match for the role. WMEC270s have been doing similar tasks off West Africa for years.
Thanks to Walter, a former dirt dart, for bringing this to my attention.
“A third of New Zealand’s Navy ships are docked over lack of crew” –Defense News
“Three of the Royal New Zealand Navy’s nine ships are now docked at the Devonport naval base indefinitely, due to insufficient personnel.”
Recruiting problems for the US have been in the news, but it is not uncommon. US Coast Guardsmen are helping to man Royal Navy frigates. Japan’s Maritime Self Defense Force is having trouble recruiting. US Navy ships are frequently shorthanded.
What struck me about the story was the choice of ships laid up. New Zealand has chosen to lay up three of its four patrol vessels, retaining only one of the least capable. The New Zealand Navy is small, and it does coast guard tasks as well as national defense. The entire fleet consist of nine ships:
- Two 3,600 ton frigates, crew of 178 each
- Two 1,900 ton Offshore Patrol Vessels, similar to WMECs, crew of 49 each (both Otago and Wellington pictured above are laid up)
- Two 340 ton Inshore Patrol Vessels, similar to Webber class WPCs, crew of 24 each (HMNZS Hawea pictured below is laid up)
- One 9,000 ton multirole vessel, a transport, with a crew of 53
- One 5,741 ton hydrographic and diver support vessel, with a crew of 39
- One 26,000 ton ice-strengthened underway replenishment ship, with a crew of 75
New Zealand has been helpful to neighboring Pacific island nations in regard to Illegal, Unreported, and Unregulated fishing and disaster response. Hopefully they will continue in this role, perhaps using their multipurpose vessel and/or their underway replenishment ship which also provide unique capabilities.
“Merchant Mariner Shortage Has Gotten Worse, but a Partial Solution Is Available” –Real Clear Defense
A mariner shortfall in 2018 was a grave concern. Today, with an escalating conflict in Europe and an increasingly bellicose China, the lack of seasoned merchant mariners is a clear and present danger to our national security.
Four years ago, the nation was about 1,800 mariners short to sustain sealift in a crisis beyond six months. Today that number is only increasing.
The proposed partial solution is to increae the size of the Merchant Marine Academy classes.
Coast Guard Academy graduates know the Merchant Marine Academy primarily as a football rival, but it is also a source of many Coast Guard Officers.
The central point of the post is that we don’t have enough mariners to support a war. The great distances of the Pacific exacerbate the problem. Logistics, as always, are key.
I would note that the shortages of mariners is not just in the officer ranks, so something more would have to be done.
This have anything to do with the Coast Guard? Well, a few months before the US entry into WWII, there was a test of our maritime logistics capabilities, and it found that the merchant marine crews of Army transport ships were unwilling to operate in the manner the military thought best, including darken ship. What happened? The ships were commissioned and crewed by the Coast Guard.
I am not suggesting that today’s merchant crews are unreliable, but if there are shortages, it is not impossible the nation will again turn to the Coast Guard to supply mariners for high priority logistics ships.
New Format–USNI News Fleet and Marine Tracker: July 11, 2022
The latest “USNI News Fleet and Marine Tracker” includes additional summary information that is more informative.
|Total Battle Force||Deployed||Underway|
(USS 241, USNS 57)
(USS 73, USNS 37)
(44 Deployed, 16 Local )
Ships Deployed by Fleet
|2nd Fleet||3rd Fleet||4th Fleet||5th Fleet||6th Fleet||7th Fleet||Total|
For the last several weeks, information about how many ships were deployed and how many underway was missing entirely.
I had been following how many ships were deployed to 4th Fleet because in most cases those ships were assisting in drug interdiction, but recently that information was not listed. That is back. Two ships are deployed to 4th Fleet which was typical of earlier information.
From prior information, I had concluded that US Navy ships were deployed about a third of the time and underway about a quarter of the time. That is far less underway time than I believe is typical for Coast Guard cutters. We frequently hear that US Navy ships are overworked. I would not dispute that, but it does seem that underway time is not the reason they are overworked. New information included in this latest “Fleet and Marine Tracker” gives even clearer insight into how much time US Navy’s commissioned ships spend deployed and underway. For the first time there is a breakdown of ship type as either USS or USNS.
USNS ships are only 19.1% of the “Battle Force.” but they are 33.6% of the ships deployed. 64.9% of USNS ships are deployed.
Commissioned ships (USS) are 80.9% of the “Battle Force,” but only 66.4% of those deployed. Less than a third, 30.3% of commissioned ships, are deployed.
Only 20.1% of the “Battle Force” was underway. We don’t have a USS/USNS breakdown for ships underway. If we assume the 44 ships deployed and underway was in the same proportion as those simply deployed, then there were probably 29 USS ships deployed and underway. While unlikely, the 16 ships underway locally might all be USS ships, so at most 45 USS ships, 18.7% of commissioned ships might have been underway.
If the Navy wants to reduce the workload on their sailors, they probably cannot do it by reducing deployments and underway time. My own experience was that we got a lot more done while underway than while inport.
There is a second observation that is particularly important for war planning. The USNS fleet is strained to support current deployment levels. If we have a near peer conflict in the Western Pacific, we would probably want to approximately double the number of commissioned ships deployed to about 60% with about 50% of commissioned ships actually continuously underway, almost three times what we are seeing now.
Those ships will need underway replenishment.
That means that both, we need to substantially increase the number of support ships, just to fully use the combatants we already have, and that the support ships we do have are precious and need to be protected. The Coast Guard may have a role in providing at least some of that protection.
“USCG Report: Small Cutters Prove They Can Patrol a Big Ocean” –Marine Link
We have noted before, that the Coast Guard is using Webber class WPCs more like Medium Endurance Cutters than like “Fast Response Cutters” here, here, and here. No where have their capabilities been pushed harder than in the 14th District in the Central and Western Pacific.
Increased illegal, unreported, unregulated (IUU) fishing in US and neighboring island EEZs, US obligations under the Compact of Free Association, and desire to avoid the destruction of fisheries resources essential to the properity of the region has resulted in a need to push these little ships into remote areas of the Pacific.
Marine Link has a report about the use of Webber class FRCs for long distance patrols in the Western Pacific. This is a particularly good report in that it records not only the successes, but also the limitations that worry the crews on these demanding deployments.
Food and Fuel are major concerns
The nominal range for the Webber class WPCs is 2500 nautical miles (nmi) at 14 knots. Attempting to stretch that range requires some compromises. Fuel margins have proven adequate, but they are thin and running engines at their most economical speed takes a toll. The need to minimize fuel consumption to make the great distancces requires running the engines at low RPM,
Sabatini said that the lower speed poses some other problems for the engines. “The diesels are really designed to operate at higher RPMs. When we were going for a week to ten days at a relatively slow speed, the carbon isn’t getting blown out. So, I was worried about that build up, and concerned about replacing injectors at a high rate than normal.”
It also means that almost any diversion, weather avoidance, or even adverse weather will cut into that margin.
The nominal endurance is five days. As built there is simply not enough storage space for food.
“We had extra freezers and reefers on the bridge and out of the mezzanine deck.”
I presume the mezzanine deck is the clear area between the bridge and the Mk38 gun mount that is marked for vertical replenishment. When I got to tour the Bailey Barco (WPC-1122) while it was enroute to Alaska, there was a lot of gear stowed on deck in that area. Apparently that worked, but I can imagine situations where the seas might wash some gear stowed there over the side.
I have also heard that the on-board laundery facilities are inadequate for prolonged patrols.
So far, most of these long Webber class deployments seem to have been accompanied by a larger cutter, but I got the impression from the post that that may be changing since the Webber class have proven their ability to make the voyages unsupported.
The lack of any onboard medical assistance is also worrysome. The report notes this as a danger to the crewmembers, but it also means the ship is not well equipped to provide medical assistance if required in a SAR case. The possible distance from shoreside medical facilities may also mean they would have to maintain a 10 knot economical speed rather than being able to go to speed to the nearest shore facility.
That the Webber class have proven capable of doing these missions comes as a pleasant surprise because they would not normally be our first choice for covering these great distances. What might we do to make these missions less challenging?
We might base some of the OPCs in the Hawaii or Guam. This may be possible specifically because the Webber class have proven capable of performing missions previously handled by Atlantic Area WMECs. That is probably desirable in the long term, but there is a more immediate solution. Base two, or preferably three, Webber class in American Samoa.
A base in Pago Pago, American Samoa would make unneccessary any routine transits longer than the nominal five day endurance and more than 2000 nmi that are now required to reach parts of the US EEZ and Western Pacific Island nations. A base in Pago Pago would put these ships within less than five days and less than 1500 nmi of Samoa, the Cook Islands, Tahiti, Fiji, Vanuatu (1260 nmi), Tarawa (1373 nmi) and New Caladonia (1416 nmi).
“On the front lines against China, the US Coast Guard is taking on missions the US Navy can’t do” –Business Insider
Business Insider reports on the increasing demand signal for Coast Guard assets in the Western Pacific and the necessary balancing act that results. They sum it up this way.
- The US military has turned more of its attention to the Pacific amid competition with China.
- The Coast Guard has been key, conducting missions other services aren’t equipped or allowed to do.
- But it already has worldwide commitments, and higher demand in the Pacific could tax its resources.
None of this should come as a surprise to regular readers here, but it is a nice overview and there are some beautiful photos.
Perhaps more importantly these realities are being brought to a general audience.
Thanks to Mike B. for bringing this to my attention.
“Coast Guard Cutter Kimball conducts patrol to increase maritime presence and support in Pacific” –D14
Below is a press release from District 14. This is a demonstration of the Coast Guard’s growing commitment to countering Illegal, Unregulated, and Unreported (IUU) fishing in the Western Pacific
U.S. Coast Guard sent this bulletin at 02/24/2021 11:46 PM EST
U.S. Coast Guard 14th District Hawaii and the Pacific
Coast Guard Cutter Kimball conducts patrol to increase maritime presence and support in Pacific
Editors’ Note: Click on images to download a high-resolution version.
HONOLULU — The Coast Guard Cutter Kimball (WMSL-756) concluded a successful two week expeditionary patrol in support of counter-illegal, unreported and unregulated fisheries enforcement, furthering the United States’ commitment to regional security and partnerships.
As part of Operation Blue Pacific, the crew of the Kimball deployed in support of national security goals of stability and security throughout the Indo-Pacific; the crew of the Kimball remains prepared to utilize training in targeted and intelligence-driven enforcement actions as well as counter predatory irresponsible maritime behavior.
While patrolling approximately 3,600 miles in the Philippine Sea, the Kimball’s law enforcement team conducted its first ever at-sea boarding and expanded on the multilateral fisheries enforcement cooperations such as the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission.
The WCPFC is an international body made up of 43 nations and international organizations. Members agree to allow the 13 countries in the pact to board and record any potential violations on their nationally flagged vessels. The findings go to the WCPFC, who notifies the vessel’s flag state of the suspected infraction for further investigation.
“Our presence in the area shows our partners the Coast Guard’s enduring efforts to provide search and rescue response and oversight of important economic resources,” said Lt. Cmdr. Drew Cavanagh, operations officer for the Kimball. “The ongoing presence of a Coast Guard cutter in this part of the Pacific to assist in determining compliance with conservation management measures established by the WCPFC demonstrates the U.S. commitment to the region and our partners.”
The Coast Guard combats illegal fishing and other maritime threats across the Pacific to protect the United States and Pacific Island Countries resource security and sovereignty. Combating illegal fishing is part of promoting maritime governance and a rules-based international order that is essential to a free and open Oceania.
While on patrol, the Kimball was briefly diverted to assist in a search and rescue case in the Federated States of Micronesia where they utilized a small unmanned aircraft system, or sUAS. Use of sUAS expands maritime domain awareness and provides persistent airborne surveillance on maritime hazards, threats, and rescue operations.
“Training is also an important component of underway time and affects our readiness,” Lt. j. G. Joseph Fox, assistant combat systems officer for the Kimball. “The team conducted law enforcement training as well as disabled vessel towing training for our newest crewmembers.”
The Kimball is one of the newest national security cutters to be homeported in Honolulu. These technologically-advanced ships are 418 feet long, 54 feet wide and have a 4,600 long-ton displacement. They have a top speed in excess of 28 knots, a range of 12,000 nautical miles, endurance of up to 90 days and can accommodate a crew of up to 150.
Advanced command-and-control capabilities and an unmatched combination of range, speed and ability to operate in extreme weather enable these ships to confront national security threats, strengthen maritime governance, support economic prosperity, and promote individual sovereignty.