Coast Guard plays a frontline role against American enemies halfway around the world
- In April, Coast Guard ships had close encounters in the Persian Gulf and sailed the Black Sea.
- The missions reflect the role of the Coast Guard abroad, which is expected to develop in a context of competition with China.
- But this will add to the responsibilities of the service as it balances current assignments with future needs.
- See more stories on the Insider business page.
Meetings away from home in April highlighted the growing role of the U.S. Coast Guard overseas, which is expected to grow as more attention and resources are devoted to the fight against China.
On April 2, an Iranian vessel repeatedly sailed past Coast Guard patrol vessels Wrangell and Monomoy at “an unnecessarily close distance” while operating in the Persian Gulf, which the United States deemed “dangerous and Not professional”.
Three weeks later, Iranian ships again approached American ships – navy patrol vessel Firebolt and coast guard patrol vessel Baranof – in the Gulf. After verbal warnings to Iranian ships were not heeded, Firebolt fired warning shots.
Wrangell, Monomoy, and Baranof are all based in Bahrain as part of the Southwest Asian Patrol Forces, the Coast Guard’s largest unit outside the United States, which was set up in 2002 to support operations in the Middle East.
Hours after meeting Baranof, Coast Guard Cutter Hamilton sailed into the Black Sea, where long-standing tensions increased this spring, against a background of Russian military reinforcement on the border with Ukraine.
Hamilton had escorted two cutters sailing from the United States to join Patrol Forces in Southwest Asia, but remained in Europe, sailing in the Black Sea on April 27. Russia’s Defense Ministry said that day that its Black Sea fleet was monitoring Hamilton’s.Actions. “
Hamilton is the first Coast Guard vessel to enter the Black Sea since 2008 and is “emblematic of our presence in the Black Sea”, Laura Cooper, Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Russia, Ukraine and Eurasia, mentionned in response to a question from Insider at an Atlantic Council event on April 29.
The Coast Guard is part of the Department of Homeland Security, not the Department of Defense, but it often works with other branches of the US military and with foreign armies.
“We particularly appreciate the ability of the Coast Guard to cooperate with other equivalent services… around the world, but in this case in the Black Sea,” Cooper said.
Cooper echoed Coast Guard Commander Adm. Karl Schultz, who said in March that while the service had not operated in Europe “for a good number of years,” the deployment suited its ability to cooperate and compete.
“I think the Coast Guard makes access easier. The Coast Guard brings a different perspective. The Coast Guard brings unique and complementary capabilities, ”Schultz told reporters after his annual address in the service.
‘We are going to kick them out’
The Coast Guard often ventures long distances to enforce US laws and help other countries assert theirs.
Coast Guard vessels patrol the eastern Pacific Ocean to intercept drug traffickers. The cutters were deployed on the Atlantic coast of Africa to assist countries in the region in 2019 and 2020 for the first time in almost a decade. At the end of 2020, a cutter was deployed on a South Atlantic patrol for the first time “in recent memory. “
The Coast Guard’s presence in the Western Pacific Ocean is also growing against a backdrop of broader competition with China.
Since mid-2020, the service has parked three new quick-response cutting tools in Guam, a U.S. territory. These ships have “a range of about 10,000 miles,” Schultz said in March.
“We’re going to push them to some of the far reaches of Oceania. We’ll team them up with national security cutters on occasion, ”Schultz added, referring to the service’s biggest cutters, including Hamilton.
Many recent Coast Guard operations have focused on combating illegal fishing, a growing source of friction with China. In December, a coast guard helped Palau apprehend a Chinese vessel suspected of illegal fishing.
Coast Guard ships also work with the U.S. Navy in the region. In May 2019, a Coast Guard cutter passed through the Taiwan Strait for the first time, sailing alongside a Navy destroyer.
“I just think those lines are going to thicken,” Schultz said of Navy-Coast Guard cooperation.
The operational tempo of the Navy “has been very high for a considerable period … so it’s no surprise that they are reaching out and trying to complement” with the Coast Guard, said Michael Desch, professor and international security expert. at Notre-Dame.
But the more overt role of the Coast Guard comes as the service branches of the U.S. military balance resources between current missions and modernization.
The Coast Guard has a number of national responsibilities and a growing role in the increasingly accessible Arctic but did not see the same budget increases as other branches under the Trump administration.
While the Coast Guard is highly competent and often better suited than the Navy to work with foreign forces, the increasing workload should raise questions. on the scope of American commitments, Desch said.
Recent encounters “seem to indicate the fact that we are stretched out by everything we do,” Desch told Insider. “Rather than throwing everything we’ve got except the kitchen sink at some of these missions, we should ask ourselves, are these missions really essential?”