BANGOR — The Coast Guard is returning submarine-escort duty to the Navy, with a couple key exceptions. Maritime force protection units created specifically to safeguard Trident ballistic missile subs at Bangor and Kings Bay, Ga., will remain. “Those units are not going away,” Coast Guard spokesman Lt. Cmdr. Jamie Frederick clarified.
After the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the Coast Guard began escorting high-value vessels in and out of port because the Navy was stretched thin supporting wars. With the U.S. military removed from Iraq and withdrawing from Afghanistan, the Navy is reclaiming those responsibilities. “The Navy is looking to take the duty back from the Coast Guard so the Coast Guard can focus back on the missions it’s historically done,” said Lt. Lauren Cole, spokeswoman for Fleet Forces Command in Norfolk, Va.
Except at Naval Base Kitsap-Bangor and Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay, where the Navy’s only ballistic missile subs are based, the Coast Guard added the escort service to its many other duties. It wasn’t reimbursed. Maritime force protection units were created at the Trident sub bases in July 2007. The ships are manned by Coast Guard crews but were bought by the Navy and assigned to a Navy base. Their sole mission is to keep everything 500 feet away from strategic submarines while they transit on the surface to and from their homeports. For Bangor’s eight boats, that occurs in Hood Canal and the Strait of Juan de Fuca. Six Tridents are based at Kings Bay.
The units comprise about 200 Coast Guardsmen and a small fleet of vessels of different types and sizes, including offshore supply vessels, 87-foot coastal patrol boats, 64-foot screening vessels and 33-foot special-purpose Safe Boats.
Navy and Coast Guard leaders are discussing other places where the Navy will take back escort duties. Coast Guard vessels escort aircraft carriers in and out of Naval Base Kitsap-Bremerton. Its Seattle office couldn’t say for security reasons if they’re from the Bangor MFPU, or elsewhere and candidates for Navy replacements. “They were created with the specific mission of SSBN escorts,” said spokeswoman Lt. Regina Caffrey. “I can’t specify the other types of units (they do or don’t escort).”