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U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Takes a Prominent Role at RIMPAC

RIMPAC
USCGC Midgett sails in formation for the RIMPAC 2022 group photo shoot (USN)

Published Aug 2, 2022 9:44 PM by The Maritime Executive

This year's Rim of the Pacific naval exercise has received considerable attention for incorporating the U.S. Navy's entire public inventory of midsize autonomous vessels, including the two Sea Hunter-class prototypes and the two Operation Overlord crewboat conversions. While this yielded valuable practical experience for uncrewed vessel development, it overshadowed another series of firsts with perhaps more significant near-term importance: the inclusion of a U.S. Coast Guard cutter in high-end naval operations. 

The U.S. Navy participates in U.S. Coast Guard operations regularly, providing vessel platforms for the USCG's counternarcotics boarding teams in the Caribbean. The two services also work together in the Western Pacific, conducting freedom of navigation operations and partnership and training missions. But it has been a long time since the Coast Guard played a prominent role in Navy training for the high-end fight. 

At this year's RIMPAC, the world's largest international naval exercise, the Coast Guard advanced several important developments. First, the commanding officer of a cutter had control over a full task force for the first time in the exercise's history. USCGC Midgett CO Capt. Willie Carmichael had operational command of the destroyers USS Chafee and Gridley, the French Navy frigate FS Prairial, and the Peruvian Navy's BAP Guise. (The latter vessel caught fire during the exercise, and Midgett facilitated a real-world helicopter medevac.) Under Carmichael's command, this task force carried out a "broad spectrum of warfighting and humanitarian assistance and disaster response operations," according to Indo-Pacific Command.

Second, Midgett performed well in the role of opposing force, tracking and hunting other task force ships. She notched nine "constructive kills" by providing targeting information on "blue team" ships. 

Third, she participated in anti-submarine warfare exercises - the first time in the modern era that the Coast Guard has joined the Navy in this role (though far from the first historical instance). 

During the course of the exercises, Midgett became the first Coast Guard Cutter to embark a U.S. Navy MH-60R Seahawk, the Navy's primary antisubmarine warfare / multimission helicopter. The MH-60R carries subhunting gear, including a magnetic anomaly detector and sonobuoy launcher. The MH-60R's folding rotor allows it to fit into the hangar aboard National Security Cutters like Midgett, as expected: the NSC's hangar was originally designed to house a Seahawk variant.

With the cancellation of the ASW package for the Freedom-class Littoral Combat Ship series, the Navy will have fewer ASW platforms available than planned, at least until the delivery of the Constellation-class frigate. The ability to use Coast Guard helidecks for anti-submarine warfare would expand the Navy's reach if and when it were needed.

“Leading a combined task force and supporting the humanitarian and disaster relief mass rescue operation showcased the relevance of U.S. Coast Guard’s capabilities and interoperability with our partner naval services," said Midgett CO Capt. Willie Carmichael in a statement. 

After RIMPAC, Midgett is deploying to the Western Pacific on a long-range patrol, part of the Coast Guard's new mission to help in "publicly demonstrating alignment with the multinational rules based international order." The U.S. Coast Guard conducts patrol, partnership and law-enforcement operations in far-flung parts of the Pacific, where it is often the only American presence.