With the U.S. Navy increasingly challenged by dramatically expanding Chinese naval forces, the Pentagon is now counting on the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) to deploy more ships to the Pacific, Middle East and Arctic regions. This follows a Trump Administration decision I wrote about in late October to base the latest U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) Enhanced Fast Response Cutters in the western Pacific for maritime security missions.
At that time, I noted that the decision demonstrated that the “Trump administration understands that facing Chinese expansionism is about more than preparing for full-scale war…” I added that the “USCG proposal thus ramps up the U.S. ability to deal with these Chinese “below the threshold of war” gray zone tactics with a proportionately “civilian” response.”
Now, the Pentagon seems to be expanding on the concept worldwide. Breaking Defense reports that:
Later this month, the National Security Cutter Hamilton will join two new Fast Response Cutters in the Mediterranean on their way to eventually replace the first of six small patrol boats operating with the 5th Fleet in the Middle East. The ships will first stick around Europe, Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Karl Schultz said today, possibly pushing into the Black Sea to counter the expanding, and often aggressive, Russian presence there.
“I think the Coast Guard brings access, the Coast Guard brings a different look, the Coast Guard brings some unique complementary capabilities, and we made those services available to the EUCOM and AFRICOM staff,” he said.
The Coast Guard is also expected to be deploying more regularly to the Arctic as well, to face both Russian and Chinese naval fleets. Posting Coast Guard attachés at U.S. embassies in critical regions where the USCG will be operating is a key facet of this growing global presence. Breaking Defense notes that:
Later this year, a Coast Guard officer will be assigned to the embassy in Copenhagen to work with Denmark and Norway on issues involving the Arctic, a posting that signals Washington’s increasing interest in operating the High North “as our strategic competitors maneuver for advantage in the region,” Schultz said during his annual State of the Coast Guard address, which preceded his press conference.
The posting comes after the November placement of the first-ever Coast Guard attaché in Australia, who is also working with the governments of New Zealand and Papua New Guinea. In 2022, another Coast Guard attaché will arrive in Singapore for the first time, to help manage growing concerns in the region as the Chinese coast guard and maritime militia become more aggressive over fishing rights and territorial claims.
In the Pacific, the Coast Guard has stationed two fast response cutters in Guam over the last several months as part of the above-noted Trump effort to counter China, with a third scheduled to arrive this summer.
There, Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Schultz sees a wide range of missions, reports Breaking Defense:
The guard ships are “not ballistic missile shooters,” he said, “but you know not every place that you need a ship needs to have that BMD capability.” What his ships can do is “free up shooters to be the key places they need to be, and we can do sanctions work, we can do[illegal] fisheries, we can do other types of patrols,” like the Taiwan Strait transits guard ships have done in recent years.
These enhanced Coast Guard deployments are all part of the vision laid out in the Tri-Service Maritime Strategy report the Navy, Coast Guard and Marine Corps released in December.
All three of the services are implementing concepts of ‘distributed operations’ that involve widely dispersing ships and ground forces throughout the Western Pacific to dramatically complicate China’s targeting of U.S. assets. ADN