One of the Coast Guard’s busiest commands operates far from the U.S. coastline. Based in Bahrain, the U.S. Coast Guard’s Patrol Forces Southwest Asia (PATFORSWA) works alongside the U.S. Navy and partner nations to provide maritime security in the Arabian Gulf.
The mission of PATFORSWA is to train, organize, equip, support, and deploy combat-ready Coast Guard forces in support of U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) and national security objectives. PATFORSWA works with Naval Forces Central Command (NAVCENT) in furthering their goals to conduct persistent maritime operations to forward U.S. interests, deter and counter disruptive countries, defeat violent extremism, and strengthen partner nations’ maritime capabilities in order to promote a secure maritime environment in the CENTCOM area of responsibility (AOR).
Six 110-foot Island-class patrol boats – the Coast Guard cutters Adak, Aquidneck, Baranof, Maui, Monomoy, and Wrangell – are forward deployed to Bahrain. PATFORSWA also includes the Maritime Engagement Team, and robust shoreside support, maintenance, and logistics components. The Advanced Interdiction Team (AIT) is deployed for six-month periods from the Maritime Security Response Team (MSRT) in Chesapeake, Virginia.
PATFORSWA exercises administrative control of six Coast Guard cutters in addition to performing the necessary support and training functions. Commander Destroyer Squadron 50 and Commander Task Force (CTF) 55 – which is actually the same organization – exercises operational and tactical command over PATFORSWA. DESRON 50/TF55 directs the operations of all Coast Guard forces in the AOR and ensure CENTCOM strategic objectives are prioritized.
Six 110-foot Island-class patrol boats – the Coast Guard cutters Adak, Aquidneck, Baranof, Maui, Monomoy, and Wrangell – are forward deployed to Bahrain. PATFORSWA also includes the Maritime Engagement Team, and robust shoreside support, maintenance, and logistics components. The Advanced Interdiction Team (AIT) is deployed for six-month periods from the Maritime Security Response Team (MSRT) in Chesapeake, Virginia. While they are deployed as CTU 55.1.8, PATFORSWA acts as administrative control for the team, liaising on their behalf with U.S. 5th Fleet (C5F), and CTF 55.
While assigned to CTF 55, the individual units under the PATFORSWA umbrella execute operations in support of Combined Maritime Task Forces 150, 151, and 152. “We bring a non-redundant capability to the combined maritime component commanders throughout the AOR,” said Coast Guard Capt. Clinton Carlson, commodore of PATFORSWA. “With our unique Title 10 and Title 14 authorities, the Coast Guard has proven exceptionally valuable in conducting law enforcement centric and defense operations simultaneously.”
The Bahrain-based patrol boats have a different mission focus than the stateside Island-class cutters, which primarily conduct traditional Title 14 missions such as SAR; law enforcement boardings for the prevention, detection, and suppression of violations of laws of the United States; aids to navigation (ATON) verification; and depending on the region, high-value asset escorts. In the CENTCOM AOR, Carlson said the Island class almost exclusively executes Title 10 missions. “They work in concert with U.S. Navy assets and classified operations, multinational exercises, and close quarters interactions with Iranian vessels while providing Title 14 [law enforcement] expertise to the operational commanders. To facilitate these missions, WPBs [Island-class cutters] operate at least 1,000 hours more than state-side WPBs. This requires a much more robust support network to continually train, provide intelligence, repair and replenish the cutters prior to their next operation. No other location in the entire organization has the magnitude of on-call support.”
The patrol boatcrews practice visit, board, search, and seizure (VBSS) techniques, maritime law enforcement, water survival, and tactical egress/emergency evacuation. Training topics include mission planning; boarding procedures; law enforcement case package preparation; defensive tactics; use of force; escorts and detainee processing; close quarters combat; tactical combat casualty care; hidden compartments; hazardous situations; confined spaces; and smuggling trends.
Teams are trained with mannequins, mechanical breaching gear, non-gun and air-soft training weapons, and contraband detection kits.
PATFORSWA is responsible for several teams that deploy to Bahrain from the United States.
The Maritime Engagement Team (MET) conducts subject-matter expertise exchanges with the six Gulf Cooperation Council countries (Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Kuwait, United Arab Emirates, Qatar, and Oman) as well as with other coalition and allied forces. The MET originally had the mission of maintaining the currency of the cutter law enforcement teams. “Since then the mission has grown, and is now used to share the Coast Guard core law enforcement competencies with our coalition partners throughout the region and into the European Command and Africa Command AORs,” Carlson said.
The MET also participates in numerous exercises critical to enhancing the interoperability of U.S. and foreign forces in the CENTCOM AOR in the realm of visit, board, search, and seizure (VBSS) and smallboat operations. The MET is responsible for outfitting and training the six cutters and conducting their water survival training program certifications.
Upon receiving orders to PATFORSWA, each candidate is required to successfully complete a variety of pre-deployment training developed to best prepare him or her for the Coast Guard’s most dynamic and high-threat operating area.
The MET conducts both Title 10 subject-matter expertise exchanges and Title 22 formal training. This 12-person team conducts VBSS and smallboat operations and counter-smuggling work ops at their Naval Support Activity Bahrain “ship-in-a-box” facility consisting of both an indoor (air-conditioned) and outdoor mock ship, volumetric lab, and smuggling dhow. The ship-in-a-box is fabricated from shipping containers. It’s three stories high and offers 2,000 square feet of interior space to simulate shipboard inspections.
There’s also a “real” 60-foot dhow fishing vessel with more than 20 hidden compartments to challenge boarding parties. “The dhow, purchased several years ago, is an actual Arabian Gulf dhow that the team has outfitted with hidden smuggling compartments, and is used to teach proper effective search techniques,” Carlson said.
The MET participates in operations and training with other U.S. armed forces and foreign military partners. So far in FY 2017, the MET has engaged with more than 1,300 personnel from 40 countries.
The AIT is a 12-man Coast Guard deployable specialized forces (DSF) team that rotates into the theater for six-month deployments. This DSF team of professional maritime law enforcement specialists from the MSRT in Chesapeake, Virginia, provides operational commanders with a full spectrum boarding team capable of every aspect of maritime enforcement, from “pattern of life” boardings to opposed/nonconsensual boardings. The AIT is a primary contributor to the Combined Maritime Forces CTF 150 and CTF 152 operations. They have the ability to immediately deploy to any asset within the NAVCENT AOR and conduct non-compliant or opposed boardings of vessels suspected of conducting smuggling or piracy operations. Their primary focus in the AOR is enforcing maritime law, monitoring pattern-of-life activities of local merchant and fishing fleets, and detecting and countering illicit smuggling of lethal aid and narcotics.
While the 110-foot Island-class cutters back home are being decommissioned and replaced by the fast response cutter (FRC), the PATFORSWA 110s are continuing to be expertly maintained to ensure they continue to support regional strategic objectives.
The Redeployment Assistance and Inspection Detachment (RAID) was disestablished in 2015. Primarily working in Afghanistan, they helped Department of Defense (DOD) and State Department personnel prepare their equipment, vehicles, and supplies for redeployment. They provided guidance to DOD unit movement officers and hazardous materials (HAZMAT) certifiers on requirements and regulations, ensured proper container and structural integrity per the International Convention for Safe Containers, and advised DOD on proper stowage, segregation, blocking, bracing, placarding, labeling, packaging, and manifestation of containerized cargo. RAID members were Customs Border Clearance Agent-certified and enforced all U.S. customs and applicable regulations.
During the U.S. Army’s redeployment from Iraq, the RAID inspected 20 percent of the Army’s shipping containers containing 2.2 million pieces of equipment. Their efforts saved DOD tens of millions of dollars in transportation costs due to cargo delays resulting from improper processing.
Upon receiving orders to PATFORSWA, each candidate is required to successfully complete a variety of pre-deployment training developed to best prepare him or her for the Coast Guard’s most dynamic and high-threat operating area. This includes various courses designed to simulate combat situations before completing tactical combat casualty care and chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear training. These courses and more are aimed at preparing the candidates for CENTCOM deployment. Additional specific training is provided to each individual based on his/her rate and assignment to develop their technical abilities for their often unique position within the crew.
The training regime is geared toward ensuring immediate integration into their respective crews. Unlike any other unit in the Coast Guard, PATFORSWA experiences a 100 percent crew turnover annually through three transfer seasons. By comparison, stateside crews have less pipeline training, do not receive any combat training, and do not have the same expectation of being fully functional immediately upon reporting to their new unit.
Each Island-class cutter receives at least one week per month to perform all scheduled maintenance, and every 18 months the unit is sent into a dry dock to conduct more comprehensive repairs to major pieces of machinery. This maintenance plan has extended the operational life of these assets by several years. While the 110-foot Island-class cutters back home are being decommissioned and replaced by the fast response cutter (FRC), the PATFORSWA 110s are continuing to be expertly maintained to ensure they continue to support regional strategic objectives. Although the patrol force desperately needs the increased operational capabilities that FRCs would provide in the CENTCOM AOR, the Island class will continue to serve for the foreseeable future.
Carlson said PATFORSWA is like no other Coast Guard command. “The PATFORSWA assignment process is all-volunteer and competitive. Our team is composed of the top performers in each given specialty and are entrusted with highly sensitive information and expected to perform at the highest operational level. This is a unit that consistently punches well above its weight class and has become a valuable arrow in the C5F quiver.”
Coast Guard men and women assigned to PATFORSWA have a wide variety of opportunities open to them, and the highest assignment priority, upon successful completion of their tour. The enlisted personnel can develop skills that may not normally be afforded to them in their rate; such as weapons qualifications, cross-deck experiences with U.S. Navy assets, and additional pipeline schools not offered to stateside billets. In addition, all members gain a greater understanding for DOD, joint capabilities, and national strategic objectives for the region.
“They are exposed to a vastly different culture and gain a greater appreciation for how people live outside the United States,” said Carlson. “The junior officers who leave PATFORSWA have all gained a deeper understanding of how the Coast Guard fits into the national command structure and the national security strategy.”