A True Narco Submarine–Counter Measures?

The reports of the Ecuadorian Police and DEA finding a true submarine, that is one capable of submerging, about 100 feet long, built to smuggle six to ten metric tons of Cocaine, appeared over the 4th of July weekend. If you missed the reports, they are here and here.

The existence of such a sub raises some interesting operational questions.

First of course, they are more difficult to find than even the semi-submersibles that have been used in the past, and the Coast Guard has essentially no capability to detect a fully submerged submarine.

But even if the submarine is detected, first you have to be sure it is a Narco sub and not one of the hundreds of other subs out there that belong to the over forty countries that operate subs. Then how do you stop it? How do you even signal it? Do you sink it? In international waters? You might not be able to maintain contact for very long, so it better not take too long to get a decision on use of force?

Would be very interesting to find out what the true capabilities of the sub would have been.

Time to stock up on percussion grenades?

16 thoughts on “A True Narco Submarine–Counter Measures?

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention A True Narco Submarine–Counter Measures? - CGBlog.org -- Topsy.com

  2. I understand funding was a problem, and after 9/11 the mission focus changed to homeland security missions. But ASW was always a secondary CG mission until the mid 90’s. The Coast Guard is still a military armed sea service. During time of war we are supposed to operate with the Navy and provide escort when Navy platforms aren’t available, and we currently have NO ASW capability at all? Our new NSC’s aren’t even equipped with basic sonar capability. The NSC was designed for long range independent ops and it’s more lightly armed than our 4o year old 378’s. With this new threat of narc subs it may be time to rethink some sort of basic sonar/ASW module for our medium and high endurance cutters . Either that, or we give up the drug interdiction mission to the Navy too.

  3. Chuck,

    That would be concussion grenades.

    Oh where, oh where, did the Coast Guard go? In the 1890s when torpedo boats were the big thing, the RCS built ships to handle them. The fully operational submarines began work and in WWI, the Coast Guard was able to challenge the German U-boats. World War II is famous for the work done in the Atlantic and even later on the 95-footers had rudimentary sound gear for its “mouse-trap” hedge hogs. Of course, these later were removed only because of personnel reductions. The SO was removed from the patrol boats and the sound gear went with them.

    As most know the Coast Guard tried to get out of the ASW business in the 1970s but the Navy had already ponied up some of the 378 construction funding for this purpose. However, the navy never really challenged or forced the Coast Guard into greater training with the installed gear. Part of the reason given for removing ASW was the equipment was obsolete and it would be too expensive to refit. Ironically, this same equipment is still being used by the USN. The Coast Guard can find an excuse to rid itself of anything for anything it does not want.

  4. Given the threat of the Soviet submarine fleet and our relative success in ASW during WWII, the CG tended to specialize in ASW after WWII. Even the 95 ft WPBs had an ASW capability; 210s and 270s were built with contingency plans to outfit them for ASW. But our platforms outlived their usefulness as ASW assets as the adversaries got more capable. None of the ships were equipped for ASW except the 378s after the early 70s. In the late 80s/early 90s even before 9/11 they also lost their ASW capability.

    I don’t think any of our aircraft have had an ASW capability since WWII.

    Given the National Security Cutters excellent helicopter facilities, it wouldn’t take much to turn them into useful ASW ships. Adding a towed array for detection and facilities to arm and replenish Navy Helos would be all it would take.

  5. From the National Security point of view, with a non-wartime (all-out war, like WWII) USCG, I’ve always viewed the Coast Guard as the homeland defender, while the Navy takes the fight to foreign zones. In that vein, other than the primary mission of patrol work, the CG’s main wartime/military mission should be coastal ASW. If you think of the threats which a foreign power could bring to bear against the homeland (air, surface, and subsurface), the Air Force will provide air cover for CONUS and the Maritime Defense Zones, and the Navy Patrol Squadrons will provide ASW capability, but for all-weather, long-term endurance, a small surface ship, equiped with ASW and ASuW weapons would be the ideal naval facility to those aviation assets. From this viewpoint, the CG should be the premier shallow-water ASW service, and we should be training more and have strong coordination capabilities with the Air Force and Navy Patrol Squadrons. 20 years ago when the SH-2F LAMPS Is were being replaced by H-60 LAMPS IIIs, and the Seasprites were going to reserve squadrons, I thought that those SH-2Fs would be ideal compliments to the 210s and 270s in a coastal ASW role, and they would be an asset which could be activated when needed, which made up a lot for the lack of ASW equipment on the WMECs. They were also small enough to fit the flight decks of the WMECs.

    The NSCs should and would provide some overseas service or would function as maritime escorts between the homeland and the war zones, and there’d be a need for expert coxswains and surfmen to assist the Navy in coastal ops overseas, but for the most part the CG’s new FRC & OPV should have significant ASW capability to make them relevant to the national security mission, and this role (as a part of and separately from Port Security) should be the CGs focus in (non-all-out/WWII-type) wartime.

    This drug smuggling sub just reinforces that the capability would be even more useful in the CG’s peacetime missions…

  6. During WWII we did a lot of homeland defense too. Incidentally the Seaspite is still in use in some other navies

    There is another way to do ASW that could work off of the boat handling capability we have to have anyway, that is to use unmanned remotely controlled surface vehicle, say based on 11 meter RHIBs, to deploy sensors such as small towed arrays. They are more persistent than helos and can be quieter with the right equipment. That approach is planned for the LCS in addition to using helicopters.

  7. Chuck, no disagreement from me. After re-reading my post above I realize why I should quit posting after my bedtime – words don’t fit together very sensibly… What I meant to say was that during all times OTHER than an all-out war such as WWII, the CG should stick to homeland defense as it’s primary military role. The NSCs, DOG, PSUs, and needed small boat crews could/should serve overseas, but most of the CG should stick close to home, IMO.

    In an all-out (WWII) type situation, I think all bets are off, and whatever needs done should be done. And I agree the CG did yeoman service both at home and abroad in all theaters of WWII.

    • Bill S., “but most of the CG should stick close to home, IMO.”

      This was the argument of the Navy Department and many congress critters used in the nineteenth century during a some of the takeover attempts. They projected the role of the RCS under the Navy Department would serve as a “coast guard.”

      Although the RCS officer corps had little or no experience in running fleet size operations, they were better ship handlers because their daily operations demanded better sailors.

  8. Bill W., no doubt, but I don’t think that was (then) or is (now) a good argument, since during peacetime, the CG needs to operate as an enforcement branch of a non-military department. Frankly, if some of the politics could be taken out of it, the DHS is a good fit for the CG. Transportation Dept. can stick to infrastructure worries, and DHS can stick to internal and border security operations. I think the creation and organization of DHS puts more intellectual brakes on a Navy takeover than ever before.

    • I do not believe that intellectualism has anything to do with any possible take over attempt. The historical indicator is production at the USNA. The more they pump out the more places they need to put them. The CGA is getting to the same situation. (See Chuck’s vessel comparison on in another blog post).

      I’ve looked at nearly all the take over attempts and they fall into two categories; 1) the Navy’s need for officer billets, 2) political “cost effectiveness.”

      The first is not an issue at this time. However, like the Coast Guard, the number of operating hulls is shrinking in the navy. Also like the Coast Guard the Navy is looking at minimal manning that will further reduce the number of billets–especially those career important ones of command. As in the past, the Coast Guard hulls look more attractive. Just recently there was one of those periodical junior officer articles in Proceeding whining about not having sea commands for JOs–like the Coast Guard. Envy can be a powerful force.

      The second may be more plausible. The national treasury is being drained dry. You can bet there will be some thoughts about consolidating departments and agencies. DHS may be one of them. The Coast Guard holds up the 1912 Cleveland Commission as its Sword of Damocles.

      I suppose a parody on the remark about enlisted sailors could be used here, “Beware of Congressmen, for they are crafty and cunning at all times.”

  9. HOw about this:

    This test was in 1996. The vessel in the demo, P163 STYRBJORN, is only half the size of the Fast Response Cutter, 170 tons (fl) vice 370 tons and is 36.5 meters vs 47 for the FRC, but has a 57 mm, two SS missiles, a variable depth and a hull mounted sonar, in addition to the weapon in the demo. Actually they canceled development of this weapon, which was an enlarged trainable/tiltable version of a weapon that continues in Swedish service, but it was great video. (Or we could just bring back hedgehog and mousetrap or get some RBUs from the Russians.)

      • It was the weapon, not the vessel. Reference to the vessel was only to say that there are weapons that would fit on something as small as the Webber class fast response cutters.

  10. Story picked-up by National Geographic.
    Cocaine Sub Seized
    Ecuadorian police recently captured a submarine built by drug smugglers on near the town of San Lorenzo, just south of the Colombian border.

  11. Pingback: Drug Sub Builder Held | Chuck Hill's CG Blog

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