Wednesday, June 26, 2013

China Coast Guard - The Rise of a Large Sea Dragon

There are new reports that China has already started merging their civilian maritime enforcement agencies into one bigger entity, the China Coast Guard which was officially formed on March 2013.

Previously China had 5 civilian maritime agencies that are controlled by different parent ministries or agencies, altogether they are unofficially called the "five dragons contending the sea". These are the following "dragons":

1. China Marine Surveillance (CMS), currently under the State Oceanic Administration (SOA);
2. Border Control Department (BCD), under the Ministry of Public Security;
3. Fisheries Law Enforcement Command (FLEC), under the Ministry of Agriculture;
4. General Administration of Customs, under the State Council;
5. Maritime Safety Administration (MSA), under the Ministry of Transport

Ensign of the new China Coast Guard.
Photo taken from Wikimedia.

Under the new plan, the Chinese Government has appointed SOA of the Ministry of Land and Natural Resources to control the new coast guard entity. This will be formed by merging 4 of the 5 "dragons" excluding the Maritime Safety Administration which will still be a separate entity.

China has started repainting and renumbering ships from the previous maritime agencies, and has also started deploying them to sea. Its ships will now be known with the use of the word "Haijing" before the hull number. Example: FLEC-206 is now called SOA-2506 or Haijing 2506.
Expect all sea and air assets of the 4 merged maritime agencies to be reintroduced as CCG assets. Upon merging the CCG will be equipped with hundreds of small inshore patrol crafts mostly coming from the MSA, dozens of medium and large patrol vessels mostly coming from the CMS and FLEC, and various air assets. It was already reported that CCG ships are armed although no report was made on what type of weapons are fitted on them.

This is FLEC 206 before repainting....

...and after repainting now as SOA 2506 under the China Coast Guard.
Photos taken from China Defense Blog.

So why did China started merging all these civilian maritime agencies into the China Coast Guard?

There has been a long standing issue of command and controlling the operations of the 5 civilian maritime agencies which operate independently from each other, thus overlapping their duties and responsibilities and having efficiency and funding issues. Reforms have been sought for several years now, and the merging will address this. 

The aggressive push by Beijing to consolidate territories they believe is theirs requires a maritime law enforcement agency that is highly effective and efficient, and can easily be controlled by a centralized agency as an instrument of the Chinese government. Previously the 5 separate maritime entities are used to harass ships from neighboring countries instead of using naval vessels to avoid increasing tensions, but facing a large well equipped and competent Japan Coast Guard (JCG) made them think again on their strategies.

More ships painted int CCG colors, as Haijing 1117 and Haijing 1127.
Photo taken from China Defense Blog.

A single China Coast Guard gives Beijing a strong and consolidated control over a single maritime enforcement entity, and this will ensure them that their objectives are precisely met. Previous issues of efficiency and controlling rogue or trigger happy commanders will also be addressed to avoid unintended escalation of conflicts. As a larger entity Beijing will now have a better way of facing the large Japan Coast Guard, which apparently  is currently suffering from lack of additional manpower and ships in their plans to increase the JCG's size to face a mounting Chinese threat.

Japan has been a long time game player in using the coast guard to safeguard its territories and interests to avoid escalation as compared to using naval vessels. China has now learned of this game's advantages and will try to use the same game play against Japan and its other neighbors like Vietnam and the Philippines.

JCG and CMS ships facing each other in the Senkakus. Does the PCG or any Philippine civilian maritime agency have the capability to face such threats when necessary?

So what's in it for the Philippines?

The Philippines, being one of the belligerent neighbors in this push by Beijing in claiming almost the entire South China Sea / West Philippine Sea based on its so-called "9-dash Line' map will be greatly affected by the increased presence of China Coast Guard ships. It is expected that the CCG will take-over in implementing the maritime enforcement duties of the Chinese government in protecting the currently cordoned Panatag Shoal (Scarborough Shoal) from Philippine "intrusions". If this new entity is indeed more effective than the loose combination of maritime agencies, of course it would affect the Philippines and its policies directly.

BRP EDSA, a San Juan-class patrol vessel of the Philippine Coast Guard. MaxDefense believes that the PCG needs to acquire larger patrol vessels to supplant the current inventory.
Photo taken from c/o fangedboy8

MaxDefense has long been advocating the upsizing, modernization and reorganization of the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) and other civilian maritime enforcement agencies to better respond to their duties, as well as become the vanguard of safeguarding Philippine territorial waters, its EEZ and disputed maritime areas. The PCG must evolve to better respond to foreign threat, and assist the Armed Forces of the Philippines like what other regional peers do.

The Philippine government should revise its maritime organizations. It already faces difficulty in funding the PCG, and a similar solution as to what China did may be a solution to improve efficiency. The PCG must know exactly its missions, rules of engagement, and must systematically be an effective arm of the Philippine government to uphold its national interests.

A Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) patrol boat. Would it be better to merge their duties and assets with the PCG?

In addition, the PCG should be given an increase of its annual budget to modernize and expand its manpower, services and equipment; improve basing and support facilities; provide better training for its men, and engage in exercises (both internally, with local counterparts like the PN, or with foreign agencies like the JCG) more often. Make use of the offer by the Japanese to strengthen partnership between the PCG and JCG for the benefit of both organizations.

A Japan Coast Guard (JCG) large patrol vessel and a Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) patrol vessel during joint coast guard exercises. The PCG should make use of these partnerships in improving its capability in all fronts.

As to the equipment side, the PCG must purchase or obtain larger patrol vessels that can match those operated by its peers. With the advent of resorting to non-lethal ways of dealing with threats, it is expected that larger ships will better survive confrontations that involve ramming, and can stay longer on patrols at sea and survive high sea states. With China Coast Guard ships reportedly being armed, MaxDefense also suggests that PCG vessels be armed with light firearms, in addition to water cannons, loudspeakers, flares and video cameras and make them standard ship equipment. The ships must also be installed with proper surveillance equipment that can link to Coast Watch Stations and Philippine Navy centers for increased maritime domain awareness, coordination, and command & control between naval and air assets.

BRP Pampanga (SARV-003) of the PCG together with US and Philippine Navy ships at CARAT 2012 Philippines exercises. The PCG must be consistent in joining exercises similar to this.
Photo taken from US Navy.

Overall, the Philippine government needs to overhaul its entire maritime policy, and give the PCG more mandate to assist the AFP in securing and and defending Philippine territory, EEZ and disputed areas, in addition to improving its current assigned tasks like law enforcement and search & rescue. The government must realize the PCG's potentials, and PCG should also show the government and people that it can maximize its capabilities beyond what it currently has.


  1. Excellent article. I think BFAR should stay. It's just that the PCG is so low on resources that they use BFAR boats to patrol an area. hmmm tricky issue cause BFAR has more of a scientific/conservation role in the water.

    I think a merge of these two will be unlikely once the coast guard gets more assets.

  2. Highly informative article. Thank you.

    The Philippines will never match China's naval strength, but it should definitely be able to afford to stand up a well-equipped, well-trained, and well-manned Coast Guard. The larger OPV-type vessels are an absolute necessity.

    The Philippines should also be able to set up the ship building for the ships in the Philippines, with an eye to keeping purchase cost and operating costs of new vessels low.


  3. We need a dragon slayer to slaughter the dragons.

  4. I always believed that the Coast Guard should be directly under the Office of the President which I think was the case before. I would then expect better funding and command and control for the organization and perhaps a better appreciation by the executive on the scope and power needed to exercise SOVEREIGNTY over what is an archipelagic country.

    One issue I notice, correct me if I'm wrong, is the apparent passivity of the Coast Guard leadership in stating their case for more and better resources if not to the executive then directly to the people. Perhaps some aggressive networking and self-advertising is called for.

    I believe it is not too farfetched for me to say that considering present circumstances and even our own history ( too many invaders one even managed to squat here for 300 years) the very survival of our country depends on secure and unhampered access to our waterways. Practically all past invaders of RP shores came thru the sea.

    A first class Coast Guard will secure our maritime territories leaving the Navy to concentrate on offensive operations against our enemies far from our shores.

    1. Would it be wise then to put all our maritime resources including the PN under PCG for now. And let the stronger PCG do the job in securing our borders. Then start building the PN from a clean slate to a blue water force. -jamz

    2. Agreed but not necessarily put the PN under PCG control. One is a paramilitary civilian agency that should be under the executive and the other a purely military force designed to prosecute in the widest sense of the word, the maritime aspect of total war. A transformation and rebuilding strategy must be mapped by our best naval minds and strategists and the plan then carried out to its logical conclusion. I guess what I'm calling for is nothing less than a Revolution in Naval Affairs and in a wider context a Revolution in RP Affairs, but that is another subject.


  6. I agree we should locally build large opv here in the Phillipines for the coast guard it won't require complicated technology like weapons integration since coast guard ships doesn't require large caliber weapons instead we should arm them with powerful water cannons and build them to be able to ram ships and likewise be able to take hits

    1. true true. build some basic ships. we have the capabiity

  7. My suggestion is to model the Philippine Coast guard like the US Coast Guard. Combine all the dept's in one Coast Guard and make it an armed extension of the Philippine Navy. If you want OPV's look to Damen, They make one heck of a good OPV.

  8. Disclaimer: I am japanese.

    In my humble opinion given how unlikely looks get enough funds, the coast guard and navy should merge and turn their ships in to dual use law enforcement/military.

    I think that the most likely way of get the funds for the vesels, is build the hulls in Philippines. When politicians say that it "give jobs to pinoy" this become quite popular. I think that build 1000 tonnes corvettes is inside the realm of the possible.

    My idea is that your corvettes use StanFlex modular mission payload system from the Royal Danish Navy.

    "Originally conceived during the 1980s as a way of replacing several classes of minor war vessel with a single class of multi-role ships (the Flyvefisken class), the StanFlex system consists of weapons and equipment mounted in standardised containers, which can be loaded into slots on the ships. These containers can be swapped out in a short period of time, allowing the ship to switch between roles when needed."

    So the ships can be used in coast guard duties with non-lethal weapons 90% of the time and remaining 10% of the time armed with sensors, guns, torpedoes and missiles for training in naval exercises. I think that another advantage is that the weapons systems can be bought later when the budget allow it and install them and upgrade or replace them cost less money.

    The other idea is that every ship must have two crews, like the german F-125 frigate, so despite have few vessels they can stay on the sea the most of the time as possible. In my opinion mechanical reliability and high endurance are more important for contain the greedy han. Again the idea is "create more jobs", for get the funds.

    Then you can try to export your dual-use vessel to other countries with similar budget problems. The first may be a piece of junk, but you will learn from your mistakes and try to fix it in the next hull.

    1. You make some excellent points about the Stanflex System and ensuring a high level of readiness with multiple crews, mareo2.

      I have been wondering if the Danish Knud Rasmussen Class could be adapted to fit the needs of the Philippines, ie. drop the ice-breaking hull and reconfigure the engines for higher speed. If this were possible, the 72 m version could provide nice opv's for the PCG, good patrol ship/submarine hunters for the PN, and a stretched version could be used as a heavily armed light frigate.

      It would be nice if it were possible with the Knud Rasmussen Class because of its low cost and the Stanflex System, but if it is not, there are other opv options available for setting up this type of modular system, such as the Fassmer opv's, the Damen opv's and light frigates, the Fincantieri Mosaic series of opv's/corvettes/light frigates, and the Blohm & Voss Meko Series opv's/corvettes/light frigates.

      In my opinion, the European shipbuilders mentioned above currently are ahead of the game because they have adopted the interchangeability of parts and the modularity seen with automakers into shipbuilding, which seriously reduces both initial systems costs and operating costs. Furthermore, they pretty much all seem to be set up well for assisting with building the licensed ships in the country that is purchasing them, which would provide invaluable experience for Philippine naval shipbuilding and give a nice economic boost to the Philippines.

      If the Philippines can later export the ships or derivatives of these to other nations, that would be icing on the cake.


  9. IMHO, to believe that standing up for the chinese coast guard is shere a stupid idea.But we should use is our proximity to the disputed waters. the PCG should well be able to establish new and permanent outposts on philippine claimed a radar station and a pier,that is in conjunction with that way, whatever limited assets we have can be stationed there for longer periods of time.all this can be done under the cloak of a civil agency that is the PCG.anything PN does will surely heat things more,so the PCG should stay as is, and be given priority in building and procuring assets.the coming 15boat purchase,5 helicopters reported is a good start.but as many would suggest,that bigger OPV's for the PCG,that is on the 1000-2000 ton range should be built here.there are so much shipyards here for those vessels to be made.the PCG may well be our only best chance on seeing eye to eye with the chinese coast guard,and at most join the spray cannon war-which we can very well have.PN and PLAAN facing off is not gonna happen,much less an eye to eye wed very well spruce up our coast guard with more bigger ships,and more air assets at that

  10. A seaworthy hull... with high free-board... that can sail as fast as 25 knots... with modular electronic and weapon system...hmmm. Sounds good to me. What do you think?

    1. i suggest to our political leaders if we want a secured patrol in WPS the PCG should have 12 WHEC OPV like the Hamilton Cutter for its long sea indurance but not so much expensive than FFG.what we are after is patrol presence and monitoring CMS ships who intrudes frequently in our EEZ.

    2. sounds good acquitision of OPV


  12. sa revelation ilan ba ang ulo ng dragon,kung di ako nagkamali pito ata,ngunit sa mga huling araw nito puputulin din ang kanyang mga ulo at hangang isa na lang ang matira,aywan ko ba kung bakit hindi pa pinutol lahat ng ulo nito upang mabura na sa mundo ,cguro may dahilan.we are blissed coz we know and we must not worry coz the Lord God is in our side.but we must double our time in depending our seas, we need a strong armed forces, we must not allow others to grab our land and seas coz God give this to us and we must protect what is given to us,at any cost. Let no one crample our holy land and seas coz God give this to us. Rise up Filipinos coz this race is so gifted .

    1. ..oo nga bigyan niu lng ng gamit ang mga sundalo natin ay cla na ang bahala sa lahat.. kelangan lng nman nla ay konting suporta mula sa gobyerno.. gayahin niu yun ngdu-duty sa grounded na brp sierra madre.. khit walng maayus na gamit eh handa pa rin magbantay.. marami naman taung maayos na mga sundalo.. maayus na gamit lng ang kulang..

  13. sir max what's the difference of the coast guard and navy?


    1. Hi Frank. The coast guard is a civilian organization tasked to implement law and order, anti-piracy, search and rescue and other peacetime tasks at sea. The navy is a military organization tasked to territorial security operations, war fighting, and other military functions. They can complement each other in maintaining security and territorial patrol duties as well.