“Countering Drugs: Communicate the ‘Why’” –USNI Proceedings

US Naval Institute Proceedings web site has a well argued case for attempting to better explain the rationale for the Coast Guard’s drug enforcement operations to both its members and to the public. It was written by By Lieutenant Commander Jeff Garvey, USCG.

As a law enforcement and military arm, it is imperative that the Coast Guard fight violent TCOs, enforce our sovereign border, and maintain the rule of law that holds our society together. We cannot rest, as the work will never be finished. If the nation decides to alter our drug laws, that may change but not end the overall effort. As Plato pronounced, we are the guardians of the Republic, but guardians are humans who need a visceral understanding of the “why” behind their mission. Coast Guardsmen need to understand they are fighting transnational criminals, protecting our borders, and upholding the law.

There was one paragraph that, I thought particularly interesting.

Unfortunately, many Coast Guard and law enforcement partners are still focused on drug busts as the end result. Tactical questioning and intelligence collection for boarding teams is often a side effort and not a key line of effort. If we have information on a maritime drug shipment, the best course of action may not be to interdict it at sea, but rather to follow it or turn a crew member to get a more complete understanding of the network. This requires a change in mindset and how we build and share information across the interagency. Our measures of success should focus on how we are building an understanding of networks and dismantling them, not just the quantity of drugs seized. Understanding networks is harder to quantify and will take longer, but it will yield a more significant and lasting impact.

“US, Guyana to Launch Joint Maritime Patrols Near Venezuela” –Marine Link

Disputed Guayana Esequiba in light green with the rest of Guyana in dark green; Venezuela shown in orange. Illustration by Aquintero82 from Wikipedia.

Marine Link reports,

“The United States and Guyana will begin joint maritime patrols aimed at drug interdiction near the South American country’s disputed border with crisis-stricken Venezuela, the U.S. secretary of state and Guyana’s new president said on Friday.”

I presume this is going to involve the US Coast Guard, given that it is about drug enforcement and cutters still comprise the majority of 4th Fleet ships.

Venezuela and Guyana have a long standing territorial dispute, with Venezuela claiming about two thirds of Guyana. This, of course, extends into the offshore waters in regard to EEZ.

Venezuela’s armed forces are about 50 times more powerful than those of Guyana. Guyana has no combat aircraft and no navy. They do have a very small coast guard. Venezuela has a respectable navy including two submarines, three frigates and six well armed OPVs.

Discovery of oil in the disputed offshore areas is also an issue. The USCG has had a hand in this dispute already. Venezuela may still be mad at us because of this apparent misunderstanding. When the President announced a surge in counter drug ops back in April, Venezuela was specifically mentioned. In June the Navy did a Freedom of Navigation operation off Venezuela because Venezuela is claiming a 15 mile territorial sea.

Hopefully things will not get too interesting down there.

“Coast Guard crew to offload more than 26,000 pounds of cocaine, marijuana worth $390 million in San Diego” –D11 News Release

Below is a news release from D11. I like the reference to the previous off-load. That was two weeks earlier and it tends to give a feel for the size of the problem, that a report of a single off-load does not. Plus there are the year to date totals.

So far in fiscal year 2020, the Coast Guard has made more than 171 interdictions, seized more than 282,000 pounds of cocaine, 57,000 pounds of marijuana and detained more than 391 suspected smugglers in drug transit zones of the Eastern Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea.

The video and photos give a good comparison of the 26 foot (8 meter) over the horizon boat and the 35 foot (11 meter) Long Range Interceptor boats.

Also apparent here is the fact that the Navy “surge” is still primarily DDGs rather than LCS.

I am a little surprised we are still intercepting marijuana.

united states coast guard

News Release

U.S. Coast Guard 11th District PA Detachment San Diego
Contact: Coast Guard PA Detachment San Diego
Office: (619) 278-7025
After Hours: (619) 252-1304
PA Detachment San Diego online newsroom

Coast Guard crew to offload more than 26,000 pounds of cocaine, marijuana worth $390 million in San Diego

Coast Guard intercepts semi-submersible vessel
Coast Guard intercepts semi-submersible vessel Coast Guard intercepts semi-submersible vessel

Editors’ Note: Click on images above to download full-resolution version.

WHO: Director Jim Carroll, Office of National Drug Control Policy, Mr. Robert Brewer, U.S. Attorney, Adm. Karl Schultz, commandant of the United States Coast Guard, Capt. Brian Anderson, Coast Guard Cutter Bertholf commanding officer, and Bertholf crew.

WHAT: The crew of the Coast Guard Cutter Bertholf is scheduled to offload more than 26,000 pounds of cocaine and marijuana seized from suspected drug smugglers in drug transit zones of the Eastern Pacific Ocean.

WHEN: Thursday at 9:30 a.m.

WHERE: 10th Avenue Marine Terminal at 1150 Terminal St., San Diego, CA 92101

Editor’s Note: Media attending this event must RSVP with Coast Guard Public Affairs Detachment San Diego personnel at (619)252-1304 by 8:00 a.m. All media must have government-issued identification and media credentials to gain access. Entry to the terminal will be allowed to escorted media on the day of the event at 8:30a.m. Masks will be required and physical distancing protocols will be in place.

SAN DIEGO — The crew of the Coast Guard Cutter Bertholf (WMSL-750) is scheduled to offload more than 26,000 pounds of seized cocaine and marijuana in San Diego Friday.

The cocaine, worth an estimated $390 million, was seized in international waters of the Eastern Pacific Ocean. The contraband represents 13 suspected drug smuggling vessel interdictions off the coasts of Mexico, Central and South America between late May and late August by the following Coast Guard and Navy ships:

  • The Coast Guard Cutter BERTHOLF (WMSL-750) crew was responsible for two interdictions seizing approximately 6,700 pounds of cocaine.
  • The Coast Guard Cutter STRATTON (WMSL-752) crew was responsible for three interdictions seizing approximately 6,000 pounds of cocaine.
  • The Coast Guard Cutter CONFIDENCE (WMEC-619) crew was responsible for two interdictions seizing approximately 50 pounds of cocaine.
  • The Coast Guard Cutter DECISIVE (WMEC-629) crew was responsible for one interdiction seizing approximately 1,900 pounds of cocaine.
  • The Coast Guard Cutter VENTUROUS (WMEC-625) crew was responsible for one interdiction seizing approximately 1,100 pounds of cocaine.
  • The Coast Guard Cutter TAMPA (WMEC-902) crew was responsible for two interdiction seizing approximately 1,600 pounds of cocaine and 3,650 pounds of marijuana.
  • The USS KIDD (DDG-100) with embarked Coast Guard Law Enforcement Detachment (LEDET) was responsible for one interdiction seizing approximately 500 pounds of cocaine.
  • The USS PREBLE (DDG-88) with embarked Coast Guard Law Enforcement Detachment (LEDET) was responsible for one interdiction seizing approximately 4,400 pounds of cocaine.

The offload from the Bertholf follows the August 27, 2020, offload of approximately 11,500 pounds of seized suspected cocaine and 17,000 pounds of marijuana from the Coast Guard Cutter Hamilton (WMSL-753) in Port Everglades representing 10 interdictions in the same region. So far in fiscal year 2020, the Coast Guard has made more than 171 interdictions, seized more than 282,000 pounds of cocaine, 57,000 pounds of marijuana and detained more than 391 suspected smugglers in drug transit zones of the Eastern Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea.

On April 1, U.S. Southern Command began enhanced counter-narcotics operations in the Western Hemisphere to disrupt the flow of drugs in support of Presidential National Security Objectives. Numerous U.S. agencies from the Departments of Defense, Justice and Homeland Security cooperated in the effort to combat transnational organized crime. The Coast Guard, Navy, Customs and Border Protection, FBI, Drug Enforcement Administration, and Immigration and Customs Enforcement, along with allied and international partner agencies, play a role in counter-drug operations.

The fight against drug cartels in the Eastern Pacific Ocean requires unity of effort in all phases from detection, monitoring and interdictions, to criminal prosecutions by international partners and U.S. Attorneys’ Offices in districts across the nation. The law enforcement phase of counter-smuggling operations in the Eastern Pacific Ocean is conducted under the authority of the 11th Coast Guard District, headquartered in Alameda. The interdictions, including the actual boardings, are led and conducted by members of the U.S. Coast Guard.

The Bertholf is a 418-foot national security cutter, commissioned in 2008 and homeported in Alameda.

“The Coast Guard Needs to Listen—Acoustically” –USNI

Source: WOODS HOLE OCEANOGRAPHIC INSTITUTION

The US Naval Institute Proceedings has an article recommending that the Coast Guard exploit acoustics to enhance its Maritime Domain Awareness.

The author provides some examples of how acoustics have proven this capability in the past.

Using SOSUS,

“In 1961, the Navy successfully tracked the USS George Washington (SSBN-598) during her transoceanic voyage from the United States to the United Kingdom, demonstrating the ability to acoustically track vessels over global distances.”

It has found a limited application within the Coast Guard,

The Coast Guard already is using passive acoustic monitoring to autonomously detect critically endangered North Atlantic right whales and notify nearby mariners. Despite the program’s success, it has not expanded beyond the single Coast Guard facility in Woods Hole, Massachusetts. Leveraging this remote-sensing ability would allow the Coast Guard to reduce its reliance on expensive aircraft patrol hours while providing the same level of service:

It apparently could have been used to monitor fishing activity.

 “A series of experiments supported by the Navy, Coast Guard, and National Marine Fisheries Service were conducted from 1992 to 1995 that explored the possibility of using SoSuS to track vessels fishing illegally. The experiment was a resounding success—results showed that SoSuS could be used to detect, identify, and monitor (this link is to a 468 page pdf — I did not see the article in question–Chuck) individual driftnet and trawling fishing vessels in the Bering Sea and northern Pacific Ocean. Despite promising results, the service failed to move to an acoustic-based enforcement approach.”

While I can find fault with the article, the author’s main thrust that the Coast Guard is not exploiting a part of the spectrum that could help maintain a picture of what is happening offshore is certainly true. Because we no longer have sonar or ASW expertise, we no longer have a window into what acoustic sensors have to offer.

While probably true that the Coast Guard might be able to establish acoustic surveillance over limited areas of special interest, if we are going to have a comprehensive system, we would likely have to ride the Navy’s coat tails.

A Navy system that listens for submarines could also listen for trawlers. It could detect vessels that have turned off their AIS. It might cue us that a terrorist controlled vessel is headed for a US Port; or that a merchant or fishing vessel is laying mines; or that a vessel is doing clandestine monitoring of our submarine operations.

This is also another way to track and identify vessels that may be illegally dumping.

This could even help with SAR. When I was an 8th District RCC controller in the early 70s, we had a tanker explode offshore, only we did not know that it had happened for several days. The day it happened we got a report of smoke. I sent an aircraft to investigate, but we found nothing but the smoke. Smoke was not uncommon, given all the offshore oil wells that flared gas. A few days later we got a report of a missing tanker. We searched and ultimately found its mast above water. It had been cleaning tanks closer to shore than it should have been, and had had a catastrophic explosion that ripped through 25 of its 27 cargo tanks. An acoustic monitoring system would almost certainly have picked that up. Anytime a ship sinks, the collapsing of bulkheads as air filled compartments are crushed should also be heard.

As the author points out, and as we have mentioned many times here, towed arrays on cutters could help us locate low profile drug smuggling vessels (drug subs).

 

Narco Sub, Size XXL

Forbes brings us an article by blogger H I Sutton (Covert Shores), probably the best unclassified source on maritime smuggling technology in the English language, reporting discovery of an exceptionally large self propelled semi-submersible seized by Colombian forces before it could sail. The mystery is why so large and what was it expected to do? My guess–going to the Western Pacific for transshipment somewhere in Oceania.

 

“Watchful Eyes, Task Force Chief: Indo-Pacific Partners Collaborate to Disrupt Traffickers” –Indo-Pacific Forum

Rear Adm. Robert Hayes, director of Joint Interagency Task Force (JIATF) West since April 2019 leads U.S. Indo-Pacific Command’s counterdrug activities

The Indo-Pacific Forum has an interview with Rear Adm. Robert Hayes, director of Joint Interagency Task Force (JIATF) West. He provides a look at the trans-Pacific drug problem including the interdiction of precursor chemicals and Fentanyl.

Freedom of Navigation off Venezuela

Orthographic map of Venezuela centered on Caracas
Controlled territory in dark green.
Claimed territory in light green.
From Wikipedia, Author: Addicted04

Perhaps significantly for the Coast Guard’s drug interdiction efforts in the Caribbean, Navy Times is reporting that the Navy has been conducting Freedom of Navigation Operations off the Venezuelan coast in response to excessive claims not in accordance with the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).

A command official said the mission was undertaken “to challenge Venezuela’s excessive maritime claim of security jurisdiction from 12 to 15 nautical miles along its coastline and prior permission requirement for military operations within the Exclusive Economic Zone, which are contrary to international law.”

These are waters where Coast Guard cutters conduct law enforcement operations. If Venezuela wants to make a show of opposing US operations in these waters, it would be a lot easier for them to take on a 210 that a DDG or even an LCS.

“New Normal” in the Eastern Pacific?

A Pacific Area news release (reproduced at the end of the post) concerning a change of command aboard USCGC Waesche while at sea, along with the captions of the accompanying photos, show how drug interdiction operations are changing to deal with COVID-19. If you don’t have it on your ship, the best way to avoid it, is to stay underway.

The U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Waesche (WMSL 751) conducts a replenishment-at-sea with the fleet replenishment oiler USNS Laramie (T-AO 203) while patrolling the Eastern Pacific Ocean, April 20, 2020. Waesche is deployed to the U.S. Southern Command area of responsibility to support Joint Interagency Task Force South’s mission, which includes counter illicit drug trafficking in the Caribbean and Eastern Pacific. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Chief Petty Officer Dave Horning.

Waesche was underway for 90 days, apparently without a port call, replenishing underway. In the photos there is an indication of at least two underway replenishments from USNS Laramie (T-AO-203) an MSC oiler, on April 20 and on May 23. There is a good chance there may have been more.

This probably would not have been possible prior to the Navy’s surge of additional assets to the Forth Fleet for law enforcement.

The U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Waesche (WMSL 751) conducts a replenishment-at-sea with the fleet replenishment oiler USNS Laramie (T-AO 203) while patrolling the Eastern Pacific Ocean, May 23, 2020. Waesche is deployed to the U.S. Southern Command area of responsibility to support Joint Interagency Task Force South’s mission, which includes counter illicit drug trafficking in the Caribbean and Eastern Pacific. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Vincent Gordon.

Waesche in turn, replenished the Webber Class USCGC Terrell Horne (WPC-1131) on several occasions over an unspecified period. This is more evidence of the wide ranging operation of Webber class cutters, particularly in the Pacific Area.

The U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Waesche (WMSL 751) conducts an astern fueling at sea (AFAS) with the Coast Guard Cutter Terrell Horne (WPC 1131) while patrolling the Eastern Pacific Ocean during surface action group (SAG) operations, May 11, 2020. The cutters conducted multiple astern fueling at sea (AFAS) evolutions and one underway replenishment (UNREP) for food stores, which extended operations beyond normal patrol leg lengths for the Terrell Horne without foreign port calls by providing supply and logistics needs at sea, and protecting the crew from coronavirus and ensuring sustained Coast Guard operations. U.S. Coast Guard photo.


Alameda Coast Guard cutter conducts change-of-command ceremony during transit home from counterdrug deployment

News Release

June 4, 2020
U.S. Coast Guard Pacific Area
Contact: Coast Guard Pacific Area Public Affairs
D11-DG-M-PACAREA-PA@uscg.mil
Pacific Area online newsroom

Alameda Coast Guard cutter conducts change-of-command ceremony during transit home from counterdrug deployment

The Coast Guard Cutter Waesche conducts a change-of-command ceremony during their transit home following a 90-day counterdrug patrol
The Coast Guard Cutter Waesche conducts a change-of-command ceremony during their transit home following a 90-day counterdrug patrol The Coast Guard Cutter Waesche conducts a change-of-command ceremony during their transit home following a 90-day counterdrug patrol The Coast Guard Cutter Waesche conducts a change-of-command ceremony during their transit home following a 90-day counterdrug patrol The Coast Guard Cutter Waesche conducts a change-of-command ceremony during their transit home following a 90-day counterdrug patrol
Coast Guard Cutter Waesche conducts counterdrug operations in the Eastern Pacific Ocean The Coast Guard Cutter Waesche conducts a change-of-command ceremony during their transit home following a 90-day counterdrug patrol Coast Guard Cutter Waesche conducts counterdrug operations in the Eastern Pacific Ocean Coast Guard Cutter Waesche conducts counterdrug operations in the Eastern Pacific Ocean
Coast Guard Cutter Waesche conducts counterdrug operations in the Eastern Pacific Ocean Coast Guard Cutter Waesche conducts counterdrug operations in the Eastern Pacific Ocean Coast Guard Cutter Waesche conducts counterdrug operations in the Eastern Pacific Ocean Coast Guard Cutter Waesche conducts counterdrug operations in the Eastern Pacific Ocean

Editors’ Note: Click on images to download high resolution version.

ALAMEDA, Calif. — The crew of the Coast Guard Cutter Waesche (WMSL 751) held a modified change-of-command ceremony Thursday while anchored in the San Francisco Bay.

Capt. Jason H. Ryan relieved Capt. Patrick J. Dougan as commanding officer during the ceremony.
 
The change-of-command ceremony is a historic military tradition representing the formal transfer of authority and responsibility for a unit from one commanding officer to another. The event reinforces the continuity of command and provides an opportunity to celebrate the crew’s accomplishments.

The crew conducted the ceremony following a 90-day counterdrug patrol, stemming the flow of illicit narcotics trafficked across international waters of the Eastern Pacific Ocean amid the coronavirus pandemic.
 
Waesche coordinated efforts with the Coast Guard Cutter Terrell Horne and used their unmanned aerial system to disrupt criminal networks’ vital smuggling routes.
 
The crew self-quarantined for 14 days off the coast of California prior to the start of their patrol to ensure their health and safety. Instead of making international port calls, the crew took on fuel, food and supplies during replenishments at sea with the U.S. Navy.
 
Ryan reported to Waesche from the 7th Coast Guard District, headquartered in Miami, where he served as the Enforcement Branch chief. Ryan oversaw the Coast Guard’s enforcement of U.S. laws, from the protection of marine resources to drug and migrant interdiction efforts in the Southeast U.S and the Caribbean basin. 
 
Following the change of command, Dougan reported to the Coast Guard’s Pacific Area Command in Alameda, where he will serve as Pacific Area’s chief of operations. 
 
“Waesche has been successful because Captain Dougan provided the vision and leadership that allowed the crew to flourish.” said Vice Adm. Linda Fagan, commander, Pacific Area, who presided over the ceremony.

Dougan served as Waesche’s commanding officer from June 2018 to June 2020 and supported Coast Guard operations throughout the Eastern Pacific by conducting two counterdrug patrols. The crew seized more than 6,000 pounds of narcotics under Dougan’s command worth an estimated wholesale value over $200 million.
 
Dougan also oversaw an eight-month in-port maintenance period for the installation of a small unmanned aircraft system and reinstallation of fabricated parts to the main reduction gear worth a total of $15 million.
 
“This crew has faced extraordinary challenges over the last two years, and faced every one head on with vigor and a can-do spirit,” said Dougan. “Leading change is hard. Changing momentum is hard. It takes focused effort, perseverance and involved leadership at all levels. Fortunately, the Waesche crew has all three and then some.”

Six Navy Ships in 4th Fleet

USCGC Stratton (WMSL-752), left, and the U.S. Navy Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS McCampbell (DDG-85) maneuver in formation during Talisman Sabre 2019 on July 11, 2019. US Navy Photo

Having watched the US Naval Institute News’ Fleet and Marine Tracker for some time, I am a bit surprised to see six ship assigned to Fourth Fleet, inspite of the on going COVID-19 problem. Six ships is only 2% of the Navy’s 296 “battleforce” ships (Note, the 3 Mayport based Cyclone class patrol craft that sometimes assist in drug enforcement are not counted among the 296), but it is far more than we typically see in the area. Unfortunately the USNI site gives us no information about what type ships are deployed or where they are. (Pacific or Caribbean?) 

This is the first solid evidence I have seen that the Navy is actually going to carry through on their stated intention to surge assets for drug enforcement. There were four ships reported in the area on April 13, also an unusually high number. There were six reported on April 6. March 30, there were two. March 23 there was only one. Prior to that it was ususally one ship, on rare occasions two, sometimes none. 

Supposedly additional aircraft and other assets are also being assigned to support the ships.