Coast Guard Presence in Crisis Zones Highlights Rise of 'Grey Warfare'

The Coast Guard Cutter Healy, a medium icebreaker, sits in the Chukchi Sea off the coast of Alaska during an Arctic deployment in support of polar operations, Saturday, July 29, 2017. (U.S. Coast Guard/Petty Officer 2nd Class Meredith Manning)
The Coast Guard Cutter Healy, a medium icebreaker, sits in the Chukchi Sea off the coast of Alaska during an Arctic deployment in support of polar operations, Saturday, July 29, 2017. (U.S. Coast Guard/Petty Officer 2nd Class Meredith Manning)

NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. -- As the world becomes more complex, the U.S. Coast Guard is advancing in the area of "grey warfare," in which assets are deployed in a military capacity but with a less aggressive appearance. And it's a global trend, the vice commandant of the Coast Guard said Monday.

Vice Adm. Charles Michel told an audience at the annual Sea-Air-Space expo that the recently published National Security Strategy highlighted the Coast Guard's capacity for hybrid and asymmetric warfare as coast guards around the world lean into that role.

"So in the South China Sea, you're seeing China sometimes coming forward with its navy but lots of times with its coast guard, and it has some massive ships in the China Coast Guard," Michel said. "And the way that it employs those ships as an exercise of state sovereignty while still having a racing stripe on the side and a nice white hull and the optic that goes along with that."

In recent years, there has been reported discussion at the top levels of the military regarding deployment of U.S. Coast Guard assets to the South China Sea. While that deployment has not taken place to date, the service conducts routine patrols around South America, the Caribbean and the Arctic, and has smaller contingents deployed around the world.

Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Paul Zukunft is fond of saying "the sun never sets on the United States Coast Guard."

Zukunft told Military.com in December that the Coast Guard was written into the United States' strategy for a military contingency regarding North Korea.

Just days ago, Michel noted, the evolving role of the Chinese Coast Guard was highlighted when the country's government formally made it part of its armed forces. It was previously part of the State Oceanic Administration.

"We're going to see how the coast guards of the world are becoming increasingly relevant, because states are finding them increasingly useful to use for assertion of national sovereignty, and we're going to have to get our arms around that concept," Michel said. "We in the United States Coast Guard are proud to be part of the joint team and provide that toolkit ... of this asymmetric force that can also operate and interoperate with the symmetric forces."

-- Hope Hodge Seck can be reached at hope.seck@military.com. Follow her on Twitter at @HopeSeck.

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