US Coast Guard vs Navy – What’s the ACTUAL Difference? (Military Comparison)

The United States Navy and the United States
Coast Guard, for anyone not in the know they might be curious as to what the real difference
is between the two services. After all, they both pretty much just operate
out at sea, and they both use military-caliber vessels. So what’s the real difference between the
two, and why do we even need a coast guard? Why doesn’t the Navy just do both jobs itself? In 1790 the United States was facing a dire
naval situation. Its shores were being regularly ravaged by
pirate vessels, many of which were sponsored by Britain. In an attempt to protect its increasingly
important overseas trade, the United States congress authorized a proposal by the Secretary
of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton to build a fleet of ten cutters. This date- August 4th, 1790- is officially
recognized as the birthday of the United States Coast Guard, and within three years the nascent
Coast Guard, then known as The Revenue Cutter Service, had seen its first anti-piracy action. When war broke out with France in 1798, Revenue
cutters made up about one-third of the total US fleet, though incredibly they ended up
seizing eighteen out of twenty vessels captured by US ships during the war. During the subsequent War of 1812, Revenue
cutters clashed with British vessels, and in one engagement the crew of an ambushed
American cutter fought so ferociously that the British captain of the attacking vessel
returned the Revenue cutter’s sword to her Captain in tribute to the skill of his fighting
men. It wouldn’t be until 1915 that the US Coast
Guard got its official namesake, when the Life-Saving Service, a system of patrol ships
dispatched to rescue sailors in distress, and the Revenue Cutter Service were merged
together into one service. On the 6th of April, 1917, the US declared
war on Germany and the Navy broadcasted “Plan One Acknowledge” to all Coast Guard bases
and stations, officially transferring control of all Coast Guard assets to the US Navy for
the duration of the war. In support of the war, six Coast Guard cutters
were dispatched to Europe for convoy escort duties, while smaller vessels patrolled the
waters off the American coast in search of German subs. This would be mirrored two decades later when
the US Navy once more assumed control over the Coast Guard and its vessels. In both wars Coast Guard ships defended convoys
from German subs, and suffered losses of ships and sailors in attacks. The US Navy was officially established on
October 13th, 1775. Despite being outgunned by the mighty British
Royal Navy, America has historically had a rich naval tradition, given the vast amount
of trade it engages in with overseas powers. This meant that the rebel colonies had a rich
pool of experienced sailors, captains, and shipbuilders, and in little time the first
vessels of the Continental Navy were putting out to sea. Despite being overwhelmingly outgunned by
superior British vessels, American captains nevertheless managed to secure several strategic
wins, or turn British victories into Pyrrhic victories with little true value. After winning the Revolutionary War, the United
States disbanded its navy as it could not afford to keep it financed. Without the funds to pay tribute to the Barbary
states, the nations that made up the north coast of Africa, American ships were plundered
by Barbary pirates. The situation only grew worse when in 1793
a truce was negotiated between Portugal and Algiers, which ended Portugal’s blockade of
the Strait of Gibraltar and allowed the Barbary pirates to escape the Mediterranean. As a result, eleven American vessels and their
crews were captured and sold into slavery. This led to the US congress to approve the
Naval Act of 1794, which authorized the building of six frigates. In 1798 when war was declared on France, the
US Navy was officially re-established. After fending off French vessels during the
war, the Barbary pirate states declared open war on the US in 1801 when the US refused
to pay tribute. This led the US Navy to conduct the first
foreign conquest of an enemy state, battling Barbary ships in Tripoli and landing a contingent
of American Marines to capture the city of Derna. During the War of 1812 against the British,
the US Navy found itself greatly outgunned and outnumbered by the Royal Navy. As a result most of her best ships were blockaded
in port, and many were captured by ground assaults and burned at the docks. Despite this, the US Navy managed to capture
several British ships, and even had a brief but highly successful campaign against British
merchant ships in the Pacific. Key victories in the Great Lakes by the US
Navy denied the British several key strategic concessions during the negotiations for peace,
and these victories ensured that the Navy would remain fully funded even after the war
was over. At last the United States would have a respectable
and full-time navy. During the American Civil War the Union Navy
completely dominated the Confederate Navy, and the blockade of southern ports proved
devastating to the Confederacy, hasting along the end of the war. It would be this war however when the world
would witness the effects of battle between two ironclads, new ships that were fully armored
with metal plating for the first time. On March 9th, 1862, the whole world acknowledged
that wooden ships were officially obsolete, as Union and Confederate ironclads attacked
each other while tearing through the wooden-hulled ships of both sides. The US Navy would sadly decline until just
prior to World War I, when it became the second most powerful navy in the world after the
Royal Navy. With World War II though the US surpassed
the Royal Navy, and officially became the most powerful navy on earth. Today the American navy remains head and shoulders
ahead of its nearest competitors, and is matched by no other navy anywhere. So now that we know about the two services,
just what is the difference between the two really? Well, essentially both services have similar,
but distinct jobs. The US Coast Guard is America’s primary enforcer
of maritime law, a task that the US Navy may occasionally assist with, but does not actively
partake in. The Coast Guard’s civil duties are multiple,
and they are responsible for their age-old tradition of maintaining lighthouses, buoys
and other navigational aids for civilian traffic- although admittedly the only lighthouses in
official operations today are automated. The Coast Guard routinely monitors ship traffic
to ensure that vessels of all sizes are obeying proper maritime rules and regulations. They also help keep traffic manageable at
some of the world’s busiest ports, as well as combat smuggling and illegal immigration
by searching for stowaways or responding to a ship who’s discovered them hidden on board. Famously, the US Coast Guard is the primary
deterrent to drug smuggling on the ocean, and operates a fleet of about 200 cutters
and smaller patrol craft to chase down suspected smugglers. Recently a video of Coast Guard officers stopping
a drug smuggling submarine has gone viral, and this is the job the Coasties do every
day. The Coast Guard however is also responsible
for responding to disasters at sea. When your ship is going down in rough waters
and you desperately need help, it’s the Coast Guard who’ll come to rescue the day. No matter what nationality you are, as long
as you’re in American waters you have a guardian angel on your side, and that’s a Coast Guard
helicopter carrying rescue divers, who have one of the most dangerous jobs in the world. However in war time the Coast Guard can also
be called upon to supplement the abilities of the US Navy. While today its National Security Cutters
aren’t equipped with the heavy, long-range firepower needed to take on most military
vessels, they still pack a formidable wallop with a 57mm gun, a 20mm Phalanx CIWs (see-whiz)
for close-range defense against drones, small boats, and anti-ship missiles, and four .50
caliber machine guns and 4 7.62 caliber machine guns. The real strength of each cutter though is
the robust suite of communications and intelligence sensors, which allows each ship to act as
eyes and ears for Navy ships anywhere within their theater of operations. A National Security Cutter may lack the heavy
firepower to go toe-to-toe with a modern war ship, but it has everything needed to target
an enemy vessel and call in a strike from a friendly Navy vessel. In essence, the US Coast Guard is responsible
for the coasts and various waterways of the United States. In war they can supplement the US Navy, and
ensure that any enemy combatant entering or even approaching American territorial waters,
or those of Canada or Mexico, is quickly engaged by nearby Navy vessels or land-based air power. The US Navy’s core mission is pretty much
exactly the opposite of the Coast Guard, and their primary war-time objective is to ensure
that no enemy force ever again sets foot on American soil. To achieve this it operates the largest fleet
of surface and subsurface vessels anywhere in the world, and the US navy on its own is
more powerful than its next dozen competitors put together. A nation with a rich maritime tradition, the
US has long put an emphasis on a strong navy, and it now sees the navy as the primary peacekeeping
tool in its toolbox. The US Navy’s real mission however is to ensure
global stability and flow of free trade. Figuring that as long as the world was busy
trading with itself, it wouldn’t want to go to war and disrupt lucrative trade with its
neighbors. To this end, the American Navy has a global
presence to help reassure weaker powers that their merchant vessels won’t be harassed,
whether by pirates or hostile foreign nations. Where once tribute was demanded of sea-going
vessels by various rogue or national states, today the world enjoys global free trade thanks
to the US Navy and its NATO allies. To achieve its objectives, the US navy operates
the largest force of aircraft carriers in the world, totaling at 10 Nimitz class carriers
and one of the brand new Gerald R. Ford class. The naval air power of the American navy combined
with that of the US Marine Corps makes it the second-largest air force in the world. These aircraft carriers are themselves supplemented
by 9 amphibious assault ships. Formerly known as amphibious assault carriers,
these were typically helicopter carriers equipped with amphibious landing craft, but now sport
vertical take-off or short take-off and landing aircraft. 10 amphibious transport docks can land hundreds
of American troops at a time anywhere in the world within days of hostilities breaking
out, and a further two are under construction as tensions with China in the South Pacific
rise. A further 12 dock landing ships supplement
America’s already prodigious amphibious forces, and given that the US has total dominance
in its own global hemisphere, it only makes sense that it places so much emphasis on having
a navy capable of conducting expeditionary amphibious landings. If you’ve seen our video United States vs
The World, then you already know that it’s exactly this lack of transport capability
that would allow the US navy to fight the world’s navies to a standstill, and make an
invasion of the Americas impossible. To knock enemy ships out of the water though,
the US Navy has a fleet of 22 Ticonderoga class guided missile cruisers, each armed
with dozens of various types of missiles ranging from fleet air defense to anti-ship and even
dual-purpose. The backbone of the Navy’s surface power however
comes from its fleet of 67 Arleigh Burke class destroyers, and 2 Zumwalt stealth destroyers
currently deployed. These ships do exactly as their name implies,
and are the heaviest surface combatants since the retirement of the battleship by the world’s
navies. Prowling under the waves all around the world
is the deadliest submarine fleet in the world, with 35 Los Angeles attack subs, 3 Seawolf
class subs, 15 Virginia class subs, and 14 Ohio class subs. While its anti-submarine capabilities severely
atrophied after the end of the Cold War, the US still fields the most advanced subs in
the world, and are considered just as stealthy as new diesel-electric subs being fielded
today by smaller navies. Unlike diesel-electrics though, nuclear submarines
offer a far greater endurance and allow the US navy to engage enemies far from home, and
threaten hostile fleets in their own territorial waters. The US coast guard and the US navy could be
seen as two branches on the same tree, but have markedly different mission sets. While both in peacetime and wartime the services
lend aid to each other and support each other’s missions, ultimately the US navy is considered
the ‘bigger cousin’, and it’s likely that in another major conflict, the Coast Guard
would once more fall under the Navy’s jurisdiction. Which of the two services would you rather
serve with? Have you ever served in either? Let us know in the comments! And as always if you enjoyed this video don’t
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