The U.S. Coast Guard has been preparing for an enhanced role in Indo-Pacific security for years, and it appears that its time in the spotlight may be near at hand. Amidst rumors of a pending agreement on joint maritime patrols with the Philippines, the USCG has plans to triple its deployments to the Western Pacific, a top officer told Defense One this week.
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Speaking at a defense industrial base conference Wednesday, Deputy Commandant for Operations Policy Rear Adm. Michael Ryan said that WestPac deployments would increase threefold. In addition, the service has plans to deploy a 270-foot cutter (WMEC) on a permanent basis to the Pacific. The particular cutter has already been picked out and will head west in 2024, after it completes a yard period on the East Coast, USCG Pacific Area Commander Vice Adm. Andrew Tiongson told USNI News this week. The WMEC will have a presence mission, focused on training, assistance, SAR and law enforcement partnerships.
The Coast Guard’s increased activity in the region is conducted in coordination with U.S. Indo-Pacific Command and U.S. 7th Fleet, and it reflects the unified approach laid out in the “tri-service maritime strategy” of 2020. Then as now, countering China is the primary objective. Rear Adm. Ryan told Defense One that the mission is to “better compete with Chinese influence” in the remote reaches of the Pacific, where a patrolling Coast Guard cutter may be the only American presence.
The announcements come against a backdrop of increased tensions between China and the United States, on multiple fronts. The Biden administration has accused the Chinese government of orchestrating the flight of a spy balloon over the continental United States, which resulted in the cancellation of an important diplomatic summit. In addition, the White House claims that Beijing is set to provide arms to Russia to support its ongoing invasion of Ukraine. In the South China Sea, increasingly assertive Chinese “gray zone” maritime operations have angered the government of the Philippines, which has responded by inviting the U.S. military to establish a larger presence in Philippine territory – to include joint maritime patrols.