• By Mar-Vc Cagurangan

Keeping China in check: USCG to beef up capability in Western Pacific

Coast Guard cutter Myrtle Hazard steams through Apra Harbor before arriving at its new homeport in Santa Rita, Guam, on Sept. 24, 2020. Photo courtesy of Macadam Kane Weissman/U.S. Navy

The National Security Council today announced the Trump administration’s plan to station a fast-response cutter to American Samoa in an effort to beef up the U.S. Coast Guard’s presence in the Western Pacific amid China’s unabated aggression in the region.

“We are making infrastructure advancement in American Samoa to make this possible,” Robert O’Brien, President Trump’s national security advisor, said. “A new fast-response cutter will enhance the Coast Guard’s footprint in the islands and its ability to patrol, surveil and protect, as well as enforce its laws.”

O’Brien said the USCG is currently conducting a $5-million feasibility study to evaluate the plan for the U.S. territory, and if the survey is favorable, the U.S. could further expand its presence in the South Pacific

The USCG deployment plan in American Samoa will reinforce the three fast-response cutters that have been earmarked for Guam.

Myrtle Hazard, the first of three 154-foot, fast-response Coast Guard cutters arrived in Guam on Sept. 24. According to a statement from the Indo-Pacific Command, the three Sentinel-class cutters will eventually replace Guam’s 110-foot Island-class patrol boats that the Coast Guard has been using for about three decades.

“FRCs are equipped with advanced command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance systems and boast greater range and endurance,” reads the statement issued Sept. 24.

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In August last year, Gilbane Building Company began work on the construction of the new 13,000-square foot maintenance facility at Naval Base Guam, which will support three new Fast Response Cutters that will replace the two 110-foot Island Class cutters currently stationed on island. The US Cioast Guard's $25-million facility project, which will be named Carlton Skinner Building after a U.S. Coast Guard WWII veteran and the first civilian governor of Guam.

O’Brien said the Coast Guard’s capability expansion will allow the United States to expand the opportunity to partner with “like-minded nations” in the region, such as Western Samoa, Cook Islands, Tonga, Tuvalu, Kiribati, Vanuatu, Fiji, Solomon Islands and Papau New Guinea.

“In era of increased strained relations, this support has never been more important and having a cutter located in the heart of the South Pacific in American Samoa will benefit the entire region,” O’Brien said. “Together we will continue the fight, as we have in the past, to protect our communities and livelihoods.”

O’Brien said China’s illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing, and harassment of vessels operating in the exclusive economic zones of other countries in the Indo-Pacific threaten the U.S. and the Pacific neighbors’ sovereignty and endangers regional stability.

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Expanding the USGS’s presence in the region is critical to countering China’s destabilizing and malign actions, O’Brien said.

While noting that the Coast Guard’s expansion should have been done earlier, O’Brien said pursuing such a program is not too late.

He attributed the delayed action to the past administration’s fiscal policy that drastically cut the defense budget, which he said resulted in the Navy's shrinkage and insufficient shipbuilding program.

“We didn’t have the ammunition for soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines. We just didn’t have the capability that we should have had and we should have built up because of the terrible defense sequestration and decimation of defense budget,” O’Brien said.

“And it was a very different view of the world that we had— the idea of leading from behind and strategic patience and turning the other cheek as China engages in malign activity,” he added.

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US Coast Guard expanding operations in Western Pacific

In a statement released after the teleconference, O’Brien said the USCG continues to modernize and enhance the capabilities of its fleet of major cutters, which play a prominent role in protecting the vital national interests, and where appropriate, those of partners in the region.

“To that end, the USCG is strategically homeporting significantly enhanced fast response cutters, built in a proven Louisiana-based shipyard, in the western Pacific,” O’Brien said.

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“The new generation of fast response cutters will conduct maritime security missions, such as fisheries patrols, enhance maritime domain awareness and enforcement efforts in collaboration with regional partners who have limited offshore surveillance and enforcement capacity, and ensure freedom of navigation.”

While China is making inroads in Pacific islands, O'Brien said enhancing the presence of the USCG in the Indo-Pacific ensures the United States will remain the maritime partner of choice in the region.

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