In Science Fiction, an “alternate reality” is a common plot device. It allows you to think “outside the box” and sidestep some of your preconceptions. A recent post, “Maritime Security Operations and the ‘Myth’ of Piracy,” allowed me to look at how Coast Guard missions are done in an alternate reality, the UK. I’d like to recommend it, not because I agree with the conclusions, but because they are so different.
What would be Coast Guard missions in the US, are fractured among several agencies in the UK. Many are done by the Royal Navy and fixed wing Maritime SAR has been done by RAF Nimrod ASW aircraft (Just as it is done by CP-140 Auroras in Canada). Deep defense cuts in the wake of a defense review, are taking away many of the resources that have done these missions. The RN is loosing many of its older smaller frigates that have done law enforcement. Towing vessels are being discarded. The new generation of Nimrods, now almost finished at great expense, are to be discarded. This raises the question, how will these missions be done in the future?
They have a Maritime and Coast Guard Agency, but it is very small, unarmed, civilian, and relies heavily on volunteers. They do SAR with surface assets, Merchant Vessel safety, and marine pollution prevention, but no drug or fisheries enforcement and no buoy tending (this seems to be handled locally although there seems to be a bill to establish nationwide funding and oversight). They have a UK Border Agency (analogous to Immigration Customs Enforcement) that works with police to do drug and migrant interdiction, and they have more than one fisheries enforcement agency including a separate one for Scotland. None of these agencies appear to operate aircraft.
Among the comments were calls for an American style Coast Guard, but the post proposes something the author considers less radical, using the Royal Fleet Auxiliary (RFA, a rough equivalent of the Military Sealift Command, MSC) to man ships and put them under the authority of the Coast Guard, Customs, and Fisheries Agencies, “In UK waters Fisheries officers could be carried, and Customers officers in the same way. In the Caribbean or off Somalia I would suggest the boarding parties should be made up of Royal Marines.”
And rather than use small Offshore Patrol Vessels, he proposes using Naval Auxiliaries, “I am not a big fan of smaller less flexible vessels, so lets go to the other extreme and examine the use of really big RFA’s for these maritime security operations.
“As the RN surface fleet has shrunk, RFA tankers and the auxiliary landing ships of the Bay Class have been used on the ‘Windies Guard Ship’ and other duties. While some have questioned the veracity of using a tanker to do anti-drug runner ops’ I say “so what?” – it’s a flexible asset, use it for whatever you can.”
That is a very different view. There has been a lively response to the post with over 90 replies. We have had our own experiment with manning ships for other agencies. Depending on the National Science Foundation to fund the Icebreaker program is what got us in the current situation. The poster never addressed who he expected to do air ops for his coast guard.
Looking at this alternate reality makes me appreciate what we have in terms of the opportunities for synergy, flexibility, coordination, and efficiency.