The Coast Guard’s Air War at Sea
By CDR Mont J. Smith Jr. USCG and CDR James P. Sutherland USCG
In the course of Coast Guard history, there are numerous things that have been done well that directly affect and improve upon Coast Guard operations. Some of these accomplishments acquire a much greater significance than imagined at the time they were accomplished.
At the end of 1964 the first of 16 WMEC Reliance Class 210’ Cutters, designed to carry a helicopter, became operational. This capability was continued in the Cutters that followed. The full utilization of the ship/helicopter capability was slow to develop. Drug enforcement was not a major factor in 1964, the Fishery and Conservation Act had not yet been passed by Congress, there were not yet boatloads of people coming from Cuba and the Haitian migrant exodus had not begun.
By 1974 the Coast Guard law enforcement responsibilities started to expand at almost an overwhelming rate. This was addressed using a combination of a Coast Guard Cutter with a helicopter aboard assisted by fixed-wing aviation assets operating as a unit. The three assets operating together were far more effective than operating independently. This operational unit concept was a force multiplier and became indispensable in effectively carrying out Coast Guard responsibilities. Without this capability, the Coast Guard would have been severely limited in operational effectiveness during the years that followed.
CDR Smith and CDR Sutherland were direct participants in the “Coast Guard’s Air War at Sea.” They have provided us with a firsthand personal account of a transformation of Coast Guard Aviation.
John “Bear” Moseley
CG AV 743