“Narco_2019-03” –Covert Shores

A Low Profile vessel (LPV) intercepted by the Colombian Navy in March may represent the first sighting of a new family of nacrosubs. The camouflaged vessel combines the once-standard layout of having the payload in the bow, cockpit amidships and single internally mounted engine in the stern with the recent trend to Very Slender Vessels. VSV-narcosubs started to be seen spring 2017 and have evolved into two distinct lineages, but all have featured aft-mounted cockpits and outboard motors. The boat is 20 meters long and just two meters wide giving a fineness ratio of 10:1.

Covert Shores brings us another update on Narco trafficking vessels and recent captures by the USCG and by Colombia.

Something is Happening in Venezuela

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

Venezuela is in an area vital to the Coast Guard’s drug interdiction effort.

CBS is reporting,

President Trump recognized the chief opposition leader in Venezuela, National Assembly President Juan Guaido, as the country’s legitimate interim president. The rare move by the White House comes as large anti-government protests erupted across the South American nation on Wednesday.

The Organization of American States (OAS) recently passed a resolution agreeing not to recognize the legitimacy of Maduro’s new term, which began on January 10.

What happens next is anybody’s guess. Civil war is possible, and it already looks like a humanitarian crisis. That our cutters may become involved in some way is not out of the question.

Thanks to Andres for bringing this to my attention.

“Narco Subs Lineage 2016-2018” –Covert Shores

Covert Shores brings us an update on what the well equipped drug smuggler is using these days, tracing the evolution of the Very Slender Vessel (VSV).

The post has lots of photos of past captures and traces apparent families of designs.

I do think his supposition that the bow planes are to keep the bow down may be incorrect. Given the angle of incidence with which they are mounted, it appears to me they are intended to keep the bow from burying itself in a wave and having the boat swamped. (See VSV family2 in the family tree diagram)

“White House Recognizes Superior Drug Interdiction Efforts” –Nov. 1, 2018, Office of National Drug Control Policy

NSC 5 James on builders trials in the Gulf of Mexico March 30, 2015.

Two Coast Guard units were recently recognized by the Office of National Drug Control Policy for exceptional performance

  • US Coast Guard Cutter James (WMSL 754) is receiving the award in the Detection & Monitoring category for their unprecedented 11 days of tactical control while JIATF South was shutdown for Hurricane IRMA.
  • S. Coast Guard Helicopter Interdiction Tactical Squadron Aviation Detachment 17-22 is recognized for their Maritime Interdiction & Apprehension successes during a 79-day shipboard deployment.

That USCGC James could take over tactical control of Join Interagency Task Force South for eleven days is truly remarkable.

 

Will We Start Seeing LCS in SOUTHCOM?

USS Independence (LCS-2)

Are we going to see any Littoral Combat Ships (LCS) joining the Coast Guard in interdicting drugs? They seem to be saying yes, but the level of effort, and when it will start, is still not clear. In April DefenseNews reported, “The Pentagon is poised to send the LCS to thwart narcos.,” but then the first line said they were “poised to decide,” which is not really the same thing.

The report indicated that four ships would deploy in 2019 (“The Navy has been piecing together a strategy to get at least four ships back down to SOUTHCOM to perform counter-drug ops.), and that 24 LCS deployments are planned between 2019 and 2024.

August 22 we had another DefenseNews report, “Newly reorganized littoral combat ship program faces its first big test in 2019,” that reported , “Four littoral combat ships are on track to be available to deploy in 2019,” but it is still unknown when that will be, for how long, and even what kind of deployment.

SOUTHCOM and others are pushing for additional assets from the Navy, but it is unclear what, if any, additional support he will be given.

Both articles had the same quote from Secretary of Defense Mattis,

“Is it primarily law enforcement? Do they need to have people with badges, which would mean Coast Guard cutters were going to have to shift and go to the Department of Homeland Security? Or is it LCSs, because of the nature of an evolving threat?” Mattis said. “We don’t have the answer yet, sir, but we’re working it.”
I find that statement a bit troubling. It looks like SecDef does not know how the ships are used. There certainly seems to be no urgency. So when will we see them? Given the current lack of commitment, probably not until mid to late 2019 at best, and even then we are unlikely to see all four committed to SOUTHCOM. The Navy will probably want to send at least one to IndoPacific Command (INDOPACOM) and one to Central Command (CENTCOM).
Ships expected to be deployed in 2019 are two of the trimaran Independence class,
USS Montgomery (LCS-8) and USS Gabrielle Giffords (LCS-10), both based in San Diego, and two mono-hull Freedom-class, USS Detroit (LCS-7) and USS Little Rock (LCS-9), both based in Mayport. One of these, USS Detroit is now expected to deploy with Naval Strike Missile installed. I can’t believe they have accelerated integration of this anti-ship cruise missile so that they could go chase drug runner. Detroit is likely to go to INDOPACOM, although it might pass through SOTHCOM AOR in transit.
There are potentially a couple of interesting things to watch if they do deploy.
  • How long can they deploy given their apparent strong dependence on contractor support and the short cruising range of particularly the mono-hull Freedom class? Hopefully deployment will be more than a photo-op.
  • If they bring an MQ-8 Fire Scout, particularly the larger “C” model which the Coast Guard has not had a chance to try, it will be interesting to see how useful it is for a Coast Guard mission.

MQ-8C Fire Scout Ground Turns and Telemetry Testing onboard USS Montgomery (LCS 8)

Photo: MQ-8C seen in the hangar of USS Montgomery (LCS-8)

 

Narco Vessel Update/Houthi Navy–Covert Shores

Covert Shores has a pair of recent posts that may be of interest.

LPV (Low Profile vessel) intercepted by Stratton (WMSL-752) in Eastern Pacific, Aug. 27, 2018. It had three outboard motors. Ref dvidshub.net

First there is a series of recent pictures of narcotics smuggling vessels seized by El Salvador and cutters Seneca and Stratton.

Attack on the Saudi Frigate Al Madinah (702), 30th Jan 2017

Also there is a brief review of the naval activity and capabilities of the Houthi Insurgency in Yemen.

Observations on the Smuggling Vessels:

What is striking about the photos of the smuggling vessels is how similar they are, and how different from many of the preceding craft. They are not identical, so they are not being made on an industrial scale, but they are all of a common concept. The post calls them narcosubs, but they don’t have the extensive effort to minimize observability that earlier narcosubs had, and they don’t run decks awash. They have made some attempt at stealth, but the attempts to cool their exhaust to minimize Infrared signature are gone, along with the inboard diesel engines replaced by multiple outboards. They have more freeboard, and are probably a great deal faster. Looks like they have combined features from go-fasts, Very Slender Vessels, Low Profile Vessels, and semi-submersibles.

An early narcosub. REUTERS/Jaime Saldarriaga

 

 

SOUTHCOM Mothership?

HOS Mystique, 250 foot Multi-Purpose Support Vessel being chartered by the Navy for SOUTHCOM

Marine Link is reporting that the Navy has awarded a $7.4M charter to Hornbeck Offshore with the work expected to be completed 14 June 2019.

“The DOD says the multi-mission support vessel will be chartered to provide proof of concept for a single vessel to meet various training, exercise, experimentation, and operational mission support requirements.”

I am going to speculate that the intent is to support the operation of Cyclone class patrol craft in the Eastern Pacific transit zone. Perhaps Webber class WPCs as well?

Cyclone-class patrol coastal USS Zephyr (PC 8) crew conducts ship-to-ship firefighting to extinguish a fire aboard a low-profile go-fast vessel suspected of smuggling in international waters of the Eastern Pacific Ocean April 7, 2018. Photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Mark Barney