More members of the Coast Guard could be headed to the Asia-Pacific region and Africa next year as the service looks to ramp up missions in those parts of the world.
The demand for Coast Guard services has never been higher, Commandant Adm. Karl Schultz said Wednesday during a Center for Strategic and International Studies event. That's likely to only increase in 2019 as combatant commanders look to Coasties to help solve complex problems in their areas of operation.
"We're in discussion with Adm. [Phil] Davidson and the Indo-Pacific command," Schultz said. "There's a request for forces, and I think you will see some Coast Guard presence in that part of the world."
There hasn't been a final decision on whether the Coast Guard will send a ship to the region, but Schultz said there's opportunity for his service to participate in theater security cooperation missions with local partners. Coasties have worked closely with Vietnam as that country established its own coast guard, and the commandant said there's room to do more of that in the region.
"The Coast Guard could, I think, bring some unique capabilities in building partner capacity," he said. "... That's the INDO-PACOM commander's ultimate decision on utilization of the Coast Guard capability that I think you're likely to see in there in the coming calendar year."
China has invested heavily it its coast guard, Schultz said, which has become the de facto enforcement arm in the South China Sea. As China builds up its navy and coast guard, and begins operating on new man-made islands, it's important for the U.S. to have a presence there too, he said.
"Tempering that Chinese influence is absolutely essential," Schultz said.
A Coast Guard medium-endurance cutter could also deploy to Africa next year. The Nigerian navy has old Coast Guard high-endurance cutters, so Schultz and Vice Adm. Scott Buschman, the Atlantic area commander, are interested with partnering with them along the African shoreline.
"It's a way to work with the Nigerians, who have those former vessels that come out, and maybe do some exercises together to help them be more capable with the ships we gave them," Schultz said.
Working with partners in the region responsible for protecting local fishing waters in places like Ghana and Senegal is also going to be increasingly important, he added.
"When you really look at the potential surge in population on the African continent, those protein sources, which come from the ocean in large part, are going to be a big part of the conversation there in the coming decade," Schultz said.