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Indo-Pacific: U.S., Japan, South Korea Maritime Police Agencies to practice together for the first time

Meanwhile, last Thursday, representatives from the U.S. Coast Guard, Japan Coast Guard and Korea Coast Guard signed a trilateral letter of intent to improve maritime expertise and promote regional cooperation

Recently, the Japan Coast Guard issued a press release stating that the maritime police agencies of the United States, Japan and South Korea will hold their first joint maritime exercise in early June.

U.S., Japan, Korea Coast Guards sign trilateral agreement to increase maritime cooperation. Credit United States Coast Guard News, Department of Homeland Security

Participating agencies include the U.S. Coast Guard, the Japan Coast Guard and the Korea Maritime Police Agency.

Analysts pointed out that after the Camp David meeting in 2023, the United States, Japan and South Korea are cooperating more and more closely in the defense field.

Focus on command and control

Plans and schedules for the exercise have been finalized by the heads of the U.S., Japanese and South Korean maritime police agencies, according to Japanese media reports. The three countries have agreed to hold the first joint exercise on June 6 in the Sea of Japan, focusing on intelligence information sharing, maritime succession monitoring, joint law enforcement and evidence collection, and multi-scene crisis management.

The exercise will focus on a command structure and will be conducted in two modes: "distributed" and "centralized."

U.S. Coast Guard members aboard the Alameda-based Coast Guard Cutter Munro (WMSL 755) participated in a cooperative two-day deployment with Japan Coast Guard members aboard the Japan Coast Guard ship Aso in the East China Sea, Aug. 26, 2021, credit U.S. Indo-Pacific Command

In the "distributed" phase, one party will first release "Danger Source Dynamics" to achieve information sharing under the coordination of the U.S. Coast Guard command structure in Yokosuka. The other side, on the other hand, will adjust the surveillance posture level and define a mission passage area under the control of the U.S. side, continuously tracking the target and achieving "near real-time sharing" of maritime threat dynamics through the U.S. and its allies' intelligence information sharing system.

Next, under the leadership of the United States, the three countries will establish a joint command structure in Japan and South Korea, which is expected to be located at the Japanese Coast Guard's Kyoto Maizuru Command and South Korea's Jeju Maritime Police Agency.

After "concentrating" operations, the United States, Japan and South Korea will conduct situational analysis and preliminary determinations of "criminal behavior" and conduct in-depth assessments of the "potential dangers of the suspect vessel," and then send joint officers to intercept and collect evidence.

Joint law enforcement officers will then be dispatched to intercept and collect evidence, including the use of aircraft to issue warnings.

In addition to the unified command and control of forces under the joint command authority, there will also be a dedicated liaison post responsible for liaison with the U.S. Forces Command in Japan and the U.S. Forces Command in Korea in order to obtain support in the event of escalation of the situation.

After the joint command structure comes into operation, the "distributed" command structure of the three countries, which is mainly responsible for handling its own internal coordination work, will also continue to operate. It has been speculated that the U.S. Coast Guard will be in charge of

The "live exercise" part of the joint exercise will include rapid deployment of personnel, training in cooperative law enforcement operational procedures, and support and cooperation in international rescue. Each of the three countries will send at least one ship to participate in the exercise.

Intention to expand the scope of cooperation

During the Camp David 2023 meeting, the leaders of the United States, Japan and South Korea reached consensus on maritime security cooperation.

During recent high-level bilateral talks, several agreements were signed, including cooperation between maritime police organizations. This time, the maritime police agencies of the United States, Japan and South Korea will hold a joint maritime exercise, which is a microcosm of the three countries' efforts to further strengthen their cooperation.

In the past, similar exercises have been held between the U.S., Japan, U.S.-South Korea and Japan-South Korea, but the contents were relatively single and mainly concerned rescue or boarding and inspection by law enforcement agencies. This time, the integrated scenario-based exercise aims to expand the scope of cooperation between the three countries.

Previously, patrol ships from the U.S. Coast Guard and Japan Coast Guard had traveled to the Philippines to participate in joint exercises. The United States also organized joint training for law enforcement fleets from Pacific Island countries, and Japan sent Coast Guard Agency experts to conduct on-site training.

Whether it is this joint exercise of the U.S., Japanese and South Korean maritime law enforcement agencies or similar exercises held in the past by the United States and its allies, they are supported by warships and military aircraft and involve scenarios ranging from "gray state" to "state of war."

In the U.S.-Japan joint command simulation exercise Sharp Edge-2024, the United States included patrol ships in the combat sequence to provide battlefield protection.

The Japanese Ministry of Defense also clarified that the Self-Defense Forces will take command of the Maritime Security Agency in wartime.

Foreign media have pointed out that in recent years U.S. Coast Guard patrol ships have been regularly deployed to the Western Pacific region and the U.S. carrier strike group to carry out military missions.

The number of patrol vessels of the Japan Maritime Safety Agency is more than 100, with a maximum displacement of more than 8,000 tons.

South Korea's maritime police is relatively small, with a tonnage of 500 to 3,000 tons ranging from "small, fast, smart to other characteristics."

It is expected that the United States, Japan and South Korea will gradually establish a mechanism of joint "paramilitary force" exercises, steadily expanding the number of participating countries.

Japanese and South Korean officials are looking forward to the upcoming joint maritime exercise, even as some critics question the prospect of deeper cooperation between the United States, Japan and South Korea.

U.S., Japan, Korea Coast Guards sign trilateral agreement to increase maritime cooperation

U.S. Coast Guard, Japan Coast Guard and Korea Coast Guard representatives displayed continued commitment to enhance maritime expertise and promote regional cooperation by signing a trilateral letter of intent, Thursday.

This agreement aligns trilateral cooperation between Japan, the Republic of Korea and the United States to include capacity-building efforts to Association of Southeast Asian Nations and Pacific Island countries. The letter of intent advances a joint statement between the three nations’ leaders, which was held at Camp David in August 2023.

U.S. Coast Guard Vice Adm. Andrew Tiongson, Commander, U.S. Coast Guard Pacific Area, met Japan Coast Guard Vice Adm. Watanabe Yasunori, Japan Coast Guard Vice Commandant for Operations, to finalize a trilateral letter of intent, which was previously signed by Korea Coast Guard Oh Sang Kwon, Deputy Commissioner of the Korea Coast Guard. Oh signed the letter of intent in April with the understanding that the agreement would be finalized upon Watanabe’s May visit to U.S. Coast Guard Pacific Area command.

Mr. Hyunchul Kang, Deputy Consul General of the Republic of Korea, attended the trilateral signing on behalf of the Korea coast guard, and Mr. Kishimori Hajime, Deputy Consul General of Japan, presented brief remarks as well.

“This trilateral agreement between U.S., Japan and Korea Coast Guards is the lynchpin that will drive our coast guards to work together to advance maritime safety, security, and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific,” said Tiongson. “It will enhance our multilateral operations with each other, as well as other trusted partners in the region.”

The agreement specifically recognizes the important of efforts to conserve maritime resources, combat illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing and search and rescue response efforts.

United States Coast Guard - Pacific Area

The U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) has had a continuous presence in the Far East since 1947 when USCG Captain Frank M. Meals assisted General Douglas MacArthur in establishing the Japan Maritime Safety Agency (now the Japan Coast Guard).

In 1952, the USCG established the Far East Section (FESEC) at Yokota Air Base in Fussa-shi, Japan.  Its mission was to operate long-range radio aids to navigation systems for the Department of Defense at numerous sites throughout Asia and the Western Pacific.  On December 13, 1994, the USCG decommissioned FESEC and simultaneously commissioned the USCG Activities Far East (FEACT) also at Yokota Air Base. At that time, FEACT became the parent command of the Marine Inspection Detachment (MIDET) Singapore. FEACT is one of two U.S. Coast Guard commands located overseas.

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