The October issue of US Naval Institute Proceedings has an article advocating regular assignment of a Navy Underway Replenishment (UNREP) vessel to support drug interdiction operations in the Eastern Pacific. The authors are serving Coast Guard officers,
- Captain Michael Cilenti, U.S. Coast Guard, a career cutterman, a staff director at the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, and
I would say “Amen!”
The article notes this would allow interdiction operations to become less predictable and would reduce time spent in transit to and from station. This could improve and speed handling of detainees. The unrep ships might even conduct some drug enforcement operations themselves.
The authors make a very good point, about the need for more underway replenishment ships,
“Some may push back against additional oiler deployments to SouthCom, citing a lack of available assets. But replenishment at sea—referred to as the Navy’s secret weapon by Admiral Chester Nimitz during World War II—will no doubt be foundational to any future conflict. If the Navy has too few assets to meet steady-state peacetime operations, how would it be able to support even short-term sustained combat operations in the far-flung corners of the globe?”
The title calls for an oiler (T-AO), but the article also mentions ” a T-AKE or allied oiler.” One of the Lewis and Clark class T-AKE dry cargo ships is actually a good option because, even though they carry only “limited quantities of fuel,” their 23,450 barrel capacity is enough to refuel a Bertholf class National Security Cutter more than four time from absolutely empty and they can simultaneously provide virtually every other type of stores that might be required.
Another way to achieve the same objective might be for the US Navy to transfer one or two Henry J. Kaiser class oilers to Colombia as they are replace by newer ships and work cooperatively with them.
I would note that, this would not only help Coast Guard cutters, it would also help Navy ships doing drug interdiction missions, which are typically Freedom class Littoral Combat Ships. They have far less range than the large cutter do. Allied vessels doing drug enforcement in the Eastern Pacific might also benefit.
An underway replenishment ship might also make use of Webber class cutters (FRCs) for drug interdiction more efficient, mitigating their limited endurance. While I would expect methods for replenishment directly from the underway replenishment ship would be developed, their availability would also encourage use of larger cutter to refuel and resupply the patrol craft. The underway replenishment ship might also provide aviation support for the FRCs that have no organic air support.