North Pacific Coast Guard Agencies Forum: Shaping an Infrastructure for Collaboration
An Interview with Rear Admiral Bob Day
04/02/2011 – The little known North Pacific Coast Guard Forum is a key platform from which the Pacific powers can shape collaboration to enhance maritime safety and security in the Pacific.  In December 2010, Second Line of Defense sat down with Rear Admiral Bob Day to discuss his experience with the forum. Rear Admiral Day is now based at USCG Headquarters, but he had seven years of experience with the forum. At the heart of the effort is to find ways to get the various players to network their capabilities to take on the maritime security and safety challenges in the vast Pacific.
Japan Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Hisayasu Suzuki and U.S. Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Bob Papp sign a bilateral agreement at the North Pacific Coast Guard Forum. Credit: USCG, http://coastguard.dodlive.mil
SLD: Before you discuss the Forum, could you give us a sense of the kind of Coast Guards that exist in the North Pacific? Who are the big players?
Rear Admiral Day: Well, obviously, we’ve had a long-term relationship with Japan. Japan’s Coast Guard is formulated very much after ours and the Korean Coast Guard also bears similar resemblance to USCG organization and missions.
SLD: And both have substantial assets?
Rear Admiral Day: The Japanese have very significant vessel and air assets. South Korea also has a very robust coastal fleet and aircraft; the Korean assets tend to operate primarily within their EEZ. The North Pacific CG Forum has conducted numerous exercises and several joint operations and each of the members have contributed assets or personnel; Japan and Korea, because of the coastal nature of their vessels, have generally provided air (Japan) or personnel (shipriders) for operations being conducted on the high seas.
The North Pacific CG Forum has conducted numerous exercises and several joint operations and each of the members have contributed assets or personnel; Japan and Korea, because of the coastal nature of their vessels, have generally provided air (Japan) or personnel (shipriders) for operations being conducted on the high seas.
SLD: What about the other players?
Rear Admiral Day: The Russians are significant players. They have a Coast Guard, but it is part of the Federal Border Guards. And only recently have they called themselves a Coast Guard. As a matter of fact, the Generals who lead both the Border Guards and the Coast Guard department are here in Washington [at the time of the interview] for discussions with the Commandant and other U.S. agencies.
SLD: And the Russian Border Guard certainly has a deepwater fleet.
Rear Admiral Day: Absolutely, they have a lot of water in their EEZ to cover and they’re out there patrolling all the time. As a matter of fact, they’re probably the major Forum member that comes out in deepwater operations. The Russians generally provide a vessel that’s a little larger than a 378 (A 378 foot Coast Guard High Endurance Cutter). The Chinese Fisheries Law Enforcement Council (FLEC) has also brought a vessel out for high seas combined operations during the past several years. And they come out.
SLD: And then you use their air assets as well?
Rear Admiral Day: As a matter of fact, the Russians always do provide some air support. The Japanese have also been providing air support. They use a (Gulfstream) G5. And they’ve been flying that out for the North Pacific joint patrol for high sea drift netting.
SLD: What about the Koreans?
Rear Admiral Day: The Koreans have generally been riding aboard our 378’s, primarily with a ship rider. They have not brought air assets out.
SLD: But the Japanese do?
Rear Admiral Day: The Japanese have brought out their G5. But they have not brought vessels. Most of their vessels are very much coastal oriented. Most of them are jet-powered and go very fast, but they don’t have a lot of endurance. So going out and spending a long time on the high seas is generally not a capability that they have a ton of. But boy, they can swarm all over their coast and cover their islands and everything like that fairly fast.
SLD: So basically, it’s the Russians and we who have a deeper sea capacity?
Rear Admiral Day: Well, the Chinese have got it as well with the FLEC vessels that have been participating. The Chinese don’t necessarily have a coast guard. Their coast guard like organization exists under the ministry of public security. And when we meet, we’re generally meeting with their personnel from the ministry of public security. Then there’s another element in China, which is their fisheries law enforcement group, and so we meet with them as well too, they’re generally part of it. And they have some vessels, and the ministry of public security has some vessels.
The Chinese don’t necessarily have a coast guard. Their coast guard like organization exists under the ministry of public security. And when we meet, we’re generally meeting with their personnel from the ministry of public security. Then there’s another element in China, which is their fisheries law enforcement group, and so we meet with them as well too, they’re generally part of it. And they have some vessels, and the ministry of public security has some vessels.
SLD: And what about the Canadians?
Rear Admiral Day: Canadians are generally providing CP-140 Aurora aircraft. They haven’t provided any patrol vessels, because their coast guard does not have a ton of long-range patrol. They have patrol boats, hovercrafts and buoy tenders.
A view of the command center within the North Pacific Coast Guard Forum (NPCGF) during the Seattle meetings in 2008. Credit: USCG
SLD: So the folks who participate in this Forum have different capabilities, different assets and probably different concepts of operations for their Coast Guards. So part of the task of such a forum is to figure out how to knit this capability together to deal with some common missions.
Rear Admiral Day: That’s exactly right. Some of the early pieces that before we even started doing joint operations, there’s several elements that you need. How are we going to do operations when we’re together? What are our communication frequencies; what are the procedures we’re going to use? So we created what was called a combined operations group. This workgroup had representatives from each of the countries and formulated the processes and procedures so that we could effectively operate together for a wide variety of scenarios. I think we are on the second or third version right now of the combined operations manual. And it keeps getting refined and better each time.
We created what was called a combined operations group. This workgroup had representatives from each of the countries and formulated the processes and procedures so that we could effectively operate together for a wide variety of scenarios.
The other piece that they needed was we needed an information exchange system. How do we talk to each other? And that was probably the piece when I got involved in early on is what kind of computer system are we going to come up with such that we can exchange information. And do to so with a look towards how do we operate with each other? The Russians developed and host a system called the North Pacific Coast Guard Automated System which uses a certificate based system to encrypt and have a common platform to talk on. And it’s web-based. And it’s gotten to the point now, particularly, that D-17(the Coast Guard’s Alaska Command) and the Russians talk to each other every day on it. They exchange information on vessels that are in the Bering Sea. And so, it’s moved up into that, it has chat capability, such if you want to get a bunch of people up together, you can chat back and forth basically using the chat function. There’s a database there that they’ve been building over time that has vessels of interest. And such that the Russians can populate it, anybody can populate it saying hey, we caught these guys; these guys were doing illegal fisheries, this is what we caught them doing, et cetera.
Fisheries have been a major driver, but they’re also committees that look at how can we do cooperative work on migration. How can we do cooperative work on counter narcotics? Again, they’ve got some significant major problems there too. All of the North Pacific Coast Guard Forum partners face the challenge of trying to stop illicit drugs from coming in or precursor materials too. And so, trying to get inside of those and disrupt those rings as well is another major issue we’re dealing with.
SLD: When did you first get involved with the forum and for how long?
Rear Admiral Day: 2002 was my first year in the Forum and was involved until I left the Pacific in 2009. Seven years. I started out just being a member of a workgroup and then moved into the position where I was the Head of the U.S. delegation for numerous experts meetings.
There are two major meetings each year. The first meeting is what’s called the expert’s meeting. And that’s where the workgroups really get together and generate materials for review later on, developing the combined operations manual, developing the information exchange system. The expert’s meeting is generally conducted in the March/April timeframe. And then, in September/October timeframe is what they call the summit. And that’s when the Commandants or the Commandant equivalents for each one of these countries gets together, reviews the material that’s been done by the workgroups, and then approves it or gives them additional direction on things to work on. The Summit is where we sign cooperative agreements once we’ve got something finalized or approved like the combined operations manual. That’s the cycle. The workgroups are working electronically, moving stuff back and forth in the meantime. And then they have their meeting, refine it, and then present it at the Summit. The Summit is really the culmination of it, and it’s really quite a big event. You’ve got to bring six nations together; you’ve got have translation services; you’ve got to have all the hosting and all the rest of the cost with it. It’s a pretty heavy lift.
SLD: Who pays for the meeting?
Rear Admiral Day: We have to pay for it out of hide. We get no extra money to host the Forum.
SLD: And presumably the Arctic as a game changer can be managed in part by the existence of this Forum?
Rear Admiral Day: Having set this Forum up, it’d be a very useful toolset that to manage some of these new dynamics. We’re constantly shifting the content inside the North Pacific Coast Guard Forum. And the Arctic is starting to become a major discussion point. How do you do search-and-rescue up there? How would we coordinate a Russian, Canadian and U.S. response to a major disaster? And what happens when you have a 3,000-person cruise ship that gets into trouble? And they’re miles and miles away from anybody who can respond. And it’s going to take a response from all those nations that are around that perimeter probably to get there and deal with it. And so, starting to figure out those frameworks on how you’re going to do that. How do you deal with a spill of major significance in the Arctic? How do you deal with that?
Having set this Forum up, it’d be a very useful toolset that to manage some of these new dynamics. We’re constantly shifting the content inside the North Pacific Coast Guard Forum. And the Arctic is starting to become a major discussion point.
SLD: Is the USCG is the US lead agency for the Forum.
Rear Admiral Day: The Coast Guard has some unique capabilities there, because here’s the bottom line is we’re not viewed as a military organization. We’re viewed as a law enforcement organization, which opens up a lot of doors, particularly for our access to China. We have very good access to China, and the reason being is, is because we’re viewed as a law enforcement, search-and-rescue, fisheries protection, environmental type of organization. We’re not viewed as a military organization. The Coast Guard probably has better access to China than most any other government agency.
Members of the Chinese delegation pose for photos during a tour at the port of Seattle during the 2008 Pacific Forum Credit: USCG
SLD: Do other agencies sit in the meetings?
Rear Admiral Day: State has been interested and follows our activity but have not directly participated because they are spread very, very thin. So they generally don’t attend any of the North Pacific Coast Guard forum meetings. They’re aware of activities and we report our activities to them. But are they directly engaged? No. We certainly keep other U.S. agencies interested in the North Pacific advised of our activities and the opportunities generated. But the point is that it’s a significant strategic asset for the United States as we try to deal with Pacific issues.
Again, let’s go back to the Arctic. I see sometime in the next decade, because again, of the significant amount of traffic that is going to start going up there and there will need to be a cooperative vessel traffic agreement for the Bering Straits – all access to the Arctic from the West is via the Bering Strait – between the United States and Russia. There will be persistent surveillance and shaping designated traffic lanes. The Forum has provided the foundation from which to shape such solution sets to new problems in the Pacific.
The Forum has provided the foundation from which to shape such solution sets to new problems in the Pacific.
Footnotes & References
 According to Wikipedia, “the North Pacific Coast Guard Forum (NPCGF) was initiated by the Japan Coast Guard in 2000 as a venue to foster multilateral cooperation through the sharing of information on matters related to combined operations, exchange of information, illegal drug trafficking, maritime security, fisheries enforcement, illegal migration, and maritime domain awareness. The current membership includes Coast Guard like agencies from Canada, China, Japan, Korea, Russia, and the United States. The first Forum was held in Tokyo in 2000 and has followed an alternating semi-annual cycle of technical experts and principals meetings since. Between 2000 and present, annual meetings have been held in all member countries. The forum has had success in documenting best practices from the member countries in areas of illegal drug trafficking, maritime security, fisheries enforcement and illegal migration, has a web-based information exchange system, and has published a manual for combined operations“.
 This picture refers to a video featuring a Japanese Coast Guard helo-lifted rescue of man suffering from a heart attack in 2010 (see below):