SouthCom, actually two SouthComs in a row, and the Commandant have noted that while they have excellent intelligence on drug smugglers in the transit zone, they simply do not have adequate numbers of vessels to respond. (Here, here, and here) There were never enough, but after decommissioning the Perry class frigates, the Navy’s contribution appears to have declined significantly. The Coast Guard seems to have upped their game, possibly more than making up for the Navy’s absence, but still–not enough ships.
There may be a way at least partially address this problem.
We now have 16 Webber class WPCs in three homeports in the Seventh District, six in Miami, six in Key West, and four, soon to be six, in Puerto Rico. These may be “Fast Response Cutters,” but clearly they are not all sitting in homeport waiting for SAR cases. These are law enforcement assets and they are meant to patrol. Could we perhaps, maintain as many as four in the Eastern Pacific by rotating cutters from the 7th District to fill this role in the transit zone? Obviously, it is not impossible, since the Navy is sending their similar sized Cyclone class PCs to the Eastern Pacific, but what would it take to make it work well?
Obviously they would need additional fuel and supplies while deployed. There is a good chance between Colombia, Panama, and Costa Rica, we could find a port willing to host these little white ships.
Aside from “beans and black oil” they might also need some administrative, maintenance, or medical support.
The Navy might make itself useful here by providing a simple MSC manned support vessel that could be as basic as an Offshore Support Vessel loaded with containerized offices and logistical support to provide support that the port cannot. The Navy has already chartered a number of ships of this type and could charter another.
We could start this small. First study the results of the Navy’s Cyclone class deployment. Then send a single ship from say Miami, a month later we get a second ship from Key West. Let them figure out what they need and how the problems they will inevitably encounter can be solved.
Because they cannot embark a helicopter, they will need a complementary fixed wing support, but this is already being done at least to some extent.
Once we get to a total of 18 Webber class in these three home ports, we could keep four ships assigned to SouthCom by sending two ships each month and rotating them back after two months. Seventh district would still four ships assigned to each home port, which would mean that even if two are down for maintenance they would still have two for SAR and local law enforcement.