Deep in the backwoods of southeastern Virginia, the U.S. Coast Guard’s premier tactical law enforcement team quietly goes about training for their unique mission set.
The primary mission of the Maritime Security Response Team (MSRT) is counter-terrorism in maritime environments, both domestic and overseas. The team is trained as a first responder to terrorist situations, specifically to deny terrorist acts, board and secure hostile vessels, and serve as subject matter experts in counterterrorism operations to educate and train the rest of the Coast Guard.
As the Coast Guard’s only offensively oriented counter-terrorist team, they have a critical role in the Department of Homeland Security’s maritime defense strategy.
MSRT recently celebrated its 10th anniversary, and is the result of a number of fundamental changes to Coast Guard doctrine that occurred following 9/11.
Following a number of assessments and reorganizations within the Coast Guard to better address the threat of terrorism to American ports and waterways, the ‘Deployable Operations Group’ (DOG) was stood up in 2007. This command consisted of multiple units all designed to support tactical operations, and could be tailored and deployed worldwide to meet mission requirements.
The DOG consisted of Port Security Units, Tactical Law Enforcement Teams (TACLET), Maritime Safety and Security Teams (MSST), an early form of MSRT, and the National Strike Force (NSF). These units still exist within the Coast Guard, but have had their capabilities and composition scaled since the DOG was formally disbanded in 2013.
Following the dissolution of the DOG, MSRT was headquartered in Chesapeake, Virginia, and has been deployed consistently throughout the United States and overseas for a variety of missions. Within the United States, MSRT has primarily assisted in high visibility and high threat events as part of a larger government security force package.
However, the team is capable of unilaterally deploying anywhere inside the United States on short notice to perform its counter-terrorism mission.
MSRT’s assault element is called the Direct Action Section (DAS). Members of the DAS are referred to as operators and go through extensive CQB and boarding training prior to being selected to serve on a team.
The Precision Marksmen Observer Team (PMOT) are specialized marksmen who are capable of providing accurate fire from aircraft and boats. They also observe and gather intelligence for the ground force commander.
The Tactical Delivery Team (TDT) delivers the assault force onto the objective, usually via rigid hull inflatable boats.
The MSRT also includes a CBRNE section, which provides the team with the ability to operate in Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear, and High Yield Explosive environments.
Because the Coast Guard does not fall under the Department of Defense, forward deployed elements of the MSRT can provide a tactical law enforcement capability to board vessels under certain jurisdictions that the U.S. Navy would otherwise be unable to perform.
Currently, MSRT only operates out of Chesapeake, Virginia, but will soon be reflagged as MSRT-East. What was once MSST San Diego will then become MSRT-West, providing the Coast Guard with more flexibility in deploying their counterterrorism asset.
Images courtesy of the U.S. Coast Guard