ALAMEDA, Calif. – The U.S. Coast Guard is increasing its firepower to counter terrorist attacks on ships, bridges and other potential targets in Northern California with the addition of armed helicopters to protect the region. Coast Guard Air Station San Francisco’s helicopters have been outfitted with mounts and other equipment for new weapons, and additional crewmembers have been added to join the Coast Guard’s existing fleet of armed boats, cutters and maritime security boarding teams equipped stop terrorist attacks. Armed helicopters are another level of protection the Bay Area Coast Guard can utilize to save lives and protect coastal assets.
Extensive training of pilots and crewmembers has already been conducted at land-based ranges and offshore deep-ocean training areas. Combined helicopter-patrol vessel training will begin in isolated areas of San Pablo Bay at 11 a.m. today so crews can practice hostile-boat intercept maneuvers. No live ammunition will be used during the boat intercept maneuver training in the Bay, but boaters and people ashore may hear the blank rounds being fired.
Since Sept. 11, the Coast Guard’s role in homeland security has grown. The Coast Guard is both a federal law enforcement agency and a military service and has always had the authority and capability to employ armed boarding officers and armed boats and ships for law enforcement and security missions. The new armed helicopter capability will generally be used in conjunction with armed vessels and personnel for stopping clear and present threats to targets such as cruise ships, naval vessels, and bridges in Northern California. It will not be used for routine law enforcement missions.
The Coast Guard notified a wide range of local, state, and federal partner environmental agencies and non-governmental organizations of the planned hostile boat intercept training in San Pablo Bay. Before each training mission inside the area the Coast Guard will notify local law enforcement officials in addition to issuing appropriate broadcast notices to mariners and aviators.
Marksmen selected for this mission are carefully screened for physical and mental fortitude and are highly trained. The marksmen are all volunteers.
Air Station San Francisco is the seventh Coast Guard air station to add this additional layer of protection and security to the port areas they serve. Other Coast Guard Air Stations with armed helicopter capability are located in: Mobile, Ala.; Clearwater, Fla.; Port Angles, Wash.; Kodiak, Alaska; Cape Cod, Mass.; and San Diego.