Smugglers shooting at the Coast Guard–Not a Trend We Want to Encourage

ESCANABA has released a statement about an incident in which her boarding party was fired upon by suspected smugglers.

In this case, the boarding party was “over the horizon” from ESCANABA. This highlights a potential concern in using this capability. When a cutter is clearly in view, it’s got to be rather intimidating. Smugglers can see, if there is a fight, they will lose. When both the boarding party and the smugglers are over the horizon, the odds look much more even, particularly if the smuggler feels escape is near by.

Perhaps a helicopter in support, particularly if it is equipped with an obviously devastating weapon, would restore a proper imbalance in our favor.

24 thoughts on “Smugglers shooting at the Coast Guard–Not a Trend We Want to Encourage

  1. What the f**k happened to hot pursuit?
    They never should have broken contact.
    The retaliation should have been overwhelming.
    Territorial integrity does not seem to matter in Pakistan.

  2. Your post sounds so political it’s comic. Without cutters we’ll be fired on! The budget for these new cutters won’t be swayed by your comments. Instead of discounting the OTH capability, why not focus on getting appropriate weapons systems to those on board? A Vietnam era M16A2 isn’t going to cut it. How about the USCG protect its people with full auto M4s or, the better suited for shipboard operations, MK18. They cost less and can be fielded to shore based units doing the bulk of the work. They’re also less visible than the M240 and can be “hidden” when the bosses want a “gentle public image.”

  3. Anon, that was my point. I’m not advocating not using the over the horizon capability, I’m just saying we need to have available an overwhelming response, so that they know they will lose if they initiate a shootout. Don’t think any kind of 5.56 or 7.62 mm fall in this category.

    • (Unless perhaps it is one of these:, an M134)

      Next time the bad guys may open up with an RPG.

      Looking at what we have now, if we have two machine guns, and particularly if they are on two different platforms, two boats or a boat and a helo, the problem of countering them both gets to be much more difficult for the bad guys, and the prospects of getting away with it go to near zero. In most circumstances that will be enough.

  4. Tim,
    We, the CG can not “hot pursue” anyone into FORIEGN countries, unless there are Bi-Lateral agreements and someone better be on the “horn” to said FORIEGN country.

    They were lucky in the fact the smugglers did not have an RPG or some other “reach out and touch you” weapon. I am surpised this has not been more frequently and it hasn’t happened to a helo yet also.

  5. “How about the USCG protect its people with full auto M4s or, the better suited for shipboard operations, MK18. ”

    Don’t ya just love backseat drivers. Just how is having a fully automatic weapon going to help? Besides, what is a M18? I Googled it and it came up with a host of answers. Be specific.
    As for hiding a weapon. The M60 was very concealable — yeah, I know, another of those has been Vietnam-era weapons.

    I wouldn’t worry about an RPG shot from a moving boat. They can’t hit shit when they are standing still — then again neither can the Coasties. It seems like a fair match up. Before anyone asks, I’ve been there and done that more than once.

    Chuck, the VC knew they would loose as well, but it never stopped them from trying.

    Ah, the memories. Sitting in an open 14-foot Boston Whaler at night with an antique M16A1 across my knees waiting for Charlie to come out an play. Then again sometimes, I’d take along my really ancient M1 Garand just for fun.

    • Bill, The Mk 18 he was referring to is a short barreled rifle. Don’t think the difference between it and an MK16 would effect anyone’s decision to fight or not. In fact it is probably less accurate than the standard length M-16.

      Criminals are different from the VC, it’s strictly a business decision–cost benefit analysis. Most of the time fighting isn’t worth the risk, but if the circumstances are right…

      • Thanks for informing him of the MK18 CQBR Chuck. I can barely stomach reading anything that old man has to say. Try and take an M240 (or bill’s M60) into most Sectors for non security missions (including drug/migrant interdiction) and the COTP will have a fit. 9/11 made some security measures acceptable, but the public in most non-major city areas will still balk at the sight of a small boat with mounted weapons. Your war is over wells, let us decide how to fight ours.

      • I agree with the fact that missions close in to populated areas should be conscious of how they are arming themselves. While on a WPB in Alaska as an independent duty GM, I had to take my concerns to the command that we were conducting high value asset escorts within half a mile of downtown areas and using a battle doctrine that included the MK38, 25mm MGS. Anyone familiar with the MK38 is well aware of what my concerns were. Sometimes common sense has to come into play. After that, we modified our tactics. That doesn’t mean that the system wasn’t immediately available to the CO as an option, it just wasn’t the first option. That being said, discounting the opinion of someone like Master Chief Wells does an even greater disservice to the Coast Guard than not arming our boats appropriately because of what the “public in a non-major city area may think”. We have a wealth of knowledge available from those that came before us, and should value every piece of advice we can get from people like him. Anyone that has been in any sort of conflict, be it a U.O.F. situation or an actual combat situation knows that there is no difference at all between a criminal and a combatant other than the decision to attack. Once the attack has been made, you realize that you are either prepared, or you are about to be sorry… I already know what category I’m in, and I would hope that it is the same category that my shipmates want to be in.

      • Anon, that old man is the same age I am, you get no sympathy from me. If you can’t learn from the mistakes of the past, you are bound to repeat them.

  6. Chuck,

    One reason I titled my small monograph, “Shots That Hit” (from the longer phrase, “The only shots that counts, are those that hit”) was to show emphasis that it was not the weapon but the person behind it. Hitting anything from a boat but sky and water is difficult even with heavier weapons.

    I agree, the shorter M4 is not suitable for the work but it is okay for boarding. I tried to get a couple “CAR-15” the carbine version the M16 and the forerunner of the M4.

    The VC were also in business. They had “tax collectors,” smugglers of all sorts and they would avoid any contact if they could. The best parallel to this type action is Prohibition and the run-ins the Coast Guard had with Canadians. The Coast Guard’s legal folks should brush up on those cases and apply them to those further south. Some of the former have already been argued in international courts.

    The Coasties doing the work today are better off. They have better and faster boats, better communications, better protective gear and certainly better support. However, I also believe them to be over indoctrinated where personal initiative is controlled externally. The old adage that the first causality of a conflict is the plan must be the first thing remembered when engaged with hostile fire.

    The U. S. Government missed the boat a decade ago when it did not classify all drug smugglers as terrorists. That would put a whole new set of rules in play. I would not classify them under the G. W. Bush Administration’s corruption of “enemy combatant” because they did not follow legal precedent established in ex parte Quinian during WWII.

  7. First, “bilat”s. The key to these agreements is the fact that they are just that. By the very nature of an agreement, each one is unique, having it’s own set of rules. Some can be enacted without prior notification, others require approval from some upper echelon political figure in the country whose water you are entering. I remember down in the Caribbean, we had a whole binder full, and each one was different. When the time comes to use it, you have to get it out, figure out what is required, then make contacts through the proper channels, and hope for the best. Put that into the context of a bridge crew hearing over the radio that their OTH is under fire, and I guarantee there is one heck of a time crunch happening. The first thing on that CO’s mind is to get said cutter to said small boat yesterday.

    Now firepower… an M16 is a perfectly acceptable rifle for about half of the missions that we use it for, for the other half, well ehh… a crew served weapon on an OTH would be an awesome asset, it increases your range, and your rate of fire… my personal opinion is that in a situation like this, I want the ability to put as many rounds down range as possible. Throw the help of tracers (and their psychological effect on the bad guys) in there, and I would say that an M60 or a M240B would be a great addition to the platform. The OTH is a great platform, and serves an awesome purpose, lets face it, the drug runners know to stay away from the giant white thing with an orange and blue stripe.

    At the end of the day… all of our shipmates are safe, and some great talking points were created. I just hope the discussions are being had in the right venues as well as here.

  8. Interesting! I actually didn’t know that Chuck. (not much of a big cutter guy). My question(s) then would have to be… Were they onboard? Were they mounted? Were they loaded?… etc… etc… I can see that the one on the page is set up for a mount on the bow, but there is no mount there for the gun… was this a decision made CG wide? Maybe now would be a good time for the CG to start asking itself at the beginning of ever mission “Would we be combat effective on this mission?” That being said, the only difference between law enforcement and combat is the perception of the threat. We can arrest the bad guys once they aren’t shooting at us anymore.

  9. Tomorrow’s Midrats will be covering USCG counter-narcotics efforts. The guest on Episode 39 will be CDR E. A. Westfall, USCG, CO of the USCGC Escanaba (WMEC 907). Perhaps some discussion of the Escanaba’s encounter with narcos who shot back will occur. The last of the following three links is for Blog Talk Radio and the actual program. I thought that this might be of some interest here.

    The U.S. Coast Guard and the War Against Drugs on Midrats

    Fearless Navy Bloggers Take to the Air: Episode 39 The Coast Guard and Counter Narcotics 10/3/2010

    Episode 39: The Coast Guard and Counter Narcotics

      • D.E.R., Thanks, When are you going to get a blog of your own? You come up with enough content.

      • Chuck,

        I was having an interesting time while Mike Burleson was keeping New Wars as an ongoing enterprise. I kept up my posting there for about a day after Mike’s announcement of his cessation from blogging. Then I actually realized that his blog was going to die. I was terribly disappointed, as I considered it to be one of the more erudite, calm, and civilized milblogs in existence.

        Now, let me say that I suffer from depression. Some days I’m good for discussion. Some days (or weeks) I’m really not suitable for any sort of civilized discourse (that’s just the way it is – believe me, I know – I have an advanced degree in Psychology). So, I’m not one to start any sort of blog. Such would likely be a disaster.

  10. “I can barely stomach reading anything that old man has to say.”

    Anon- That “old man” has a lot more experience being shot at and shooting back than probably anyone actively serving. It really doesn’t matter too much whether or not you have an M-16 or M-4. Same weapon, same light round, only difference is how many rounds go out with each trigger squeeze. How much training do the crews get in actually firing from a moving vessel? I suspect the number is very close to zero.

    It is dumber then hell to send a boat out in the situation described without the ability to out gun whomever they run across. I will point out I have the same concern about sending our 378’s with their wimpy 76mm or the new cutters with that cute little 57mm into places like the Perisan Gulf.

    The CG has allowed itself to be emasculated and will not learn from it until someone gets hurt or dies.

  11. Charles,

    While stationed in CGHQ as the Chief, Small Arms Training, in the early 1980s, I had similar heavy weapon concerns in an urban setting. For the Olympics in Los Angeles the 82s mounted the .50 calibers. I sent a memo up the chain recommending they not be used in or near San Pedro. The potential of civilian causalities was too great. They thanked me for my thoughts and OLE folks simply scoffed at the idea–none of them had any practical experience in the use of heavy weapons in an urban setting.

    They also laughed at me for suggesting the inclusion of submachine guns for boarding parties. My reasoning was the SMG was a common sight in around the world in the hands of the street cops and the U. S. public would get used to it. It took some years for my prediction to come to fruition but look how the public accepted the premise after 9/11/2001. Mounting a light machine on a boat would not horrify the general public. They would learn to accept it. The problem is not with the public but the attitude of a Coast Guard unwilling to live up to all its hype of being a maritime security force.

    The light machine gun uses the same type of ammunition that any criminal gang or terrorist group may use today. Folks have forgotten how outgunned the entire LAPD was during a bank robbery and they only encountered TWO bank robbers and one of the them committed suicide to prevent capture.

    I do not mind being called an old man. I am one.

  12. I don’t know the designation, but the BIG revolver chambered in 40mm grenades is a very impressive item.

    Relax Bill, I don’t think you’re old, heck if you were young enough to be in VN, you’re still young like me…just barely middle aged (I plan on living to 150).

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s