“The Drug War at Sea Is Getting Bigger and Bigger” –Bloomberg

Bloomberg has an editorial by Admiral James Stavridis, USN (retired), former  United States Southern Command (2006 to 2009) and commander, United States European Command and NATO Supreme Allied Commander Europe (2009 to 2013) that suggests the smugglers’ methods now increasingly include shipping by container in otherwise legal shipping. He goes on to suggest some possible countermeasures.

Surprisingly there is no mention of Fentanyl which appears to be an emerging drug of choice. Fentanyl is still primarily a prescription drug abuse problem, but that may be changing. Its strength in even very small quantities makes it an almost ideal drug for smuggling.

“The U.S. Sea Services (Navy, Marines, Coast Guard) Are Preparing For Great Power War” –1945

ARABIAN GULF (Feb. 25, 2021) The U.S. Coast Guard cutter USCGC Maui (WPB 1304) and the Greek navy guided-missile frigate HS Hydra (F452) participate in a passing exercise in the Arabian Gulf, Feb. 25, 2021. U.S. Coast Guard Patrol Forces Southwest Asia (PATFORSWA) is comprised of six 110-foot cutters, the Maritime Engagement Team, shore-side support personnel, and is the Coast Guard’s largest unit outside of the U.S. playing a key role in supporting Navy security cooperation, maritime security, and maritime infrastructure protection operations in the U.S. 5th Fleet area of operations. (U.S. Coast Guard photo)

James Holmes (a name worth remembering) discusses the Large Scale Exercise 2021 and war gaming in general.

This is the first indication I have seen that the Coast Guard was participating, though at least limited participation was expected. If anyone has any information about about Coast Guard’s actual participation, please provide a comment.

I’ve often thought we might learn a lot about drug interdiction by employing war gaming with an intelligent and aggressive “Red Cell.”

Finding someone who is trying not to be found is far different from doing SAR, finding someone who hopes to be found. I don’t know if we have begun to apply Operations Research developed search patterns for moving targets. I know when I was active duty it was an alien concept.

“US Navy helicopters and Coast Guard snipers are firing on suspected drug traffickers ‘daily,’ top admiral says” –Business Insider

Petty Officer 2nd Class Anthony Phillips, a precision marksman at Helicopter Interdiction Tactical Squadron, displays the weaponry used by a HITRON during missions, February 23, 2010. US Coast Guard/Petty Officer 1st Class Bobby Nash

Business Insider has a story touting the success of the Navy/Coast Guard team effort in drug interdiction. This seems to be a report on Adm. Craig Faller’s (SOUTHCOM) remarks at the Surface Navy Association symposium in mid-January.

There is strong praise for the HITRON personnel.

“Coast Guard HITRON teams, which are sniper teams, have integrated into US Navy helicopters. So our Navy crews are involved in decisions to use … warning shots and disabling fire daily. I mean, it is a daily event,” Faller added. “We average numbers, sometimes large numbers, of events daily, and they’ve done it safely, effectively, completely in compliance with all the law of war and with precision. [I’m] very proud of that.”

I have to believe the “daily” claim is at least a slight exaggeration, since presumably HITRON was involved in all the cases and the report quotes Cmdr. Ace Castle, public affairs officer for US Coast Guard Atlantic Area, as saying they prosecuted 56 in 2020.

In any case, HITRON is getting a workout and proving their value. Worth noting that they and other Coast Guard law enforcement detachments, also serve on foreign ships working for SouthCom, including British, Canadian, Dutch, and French vessels.

USCGC Stone off Guyana, Plus a Drug Interdiction

Some photographs from USCGC Stone’s deployment to the Atlantic Coast of South America. Keep in mind, this is really a shakedown cruise. She still has not been commissioned.

Guyana coast guard small boats patrol alongside the USCGC Stone (WMSL 758) off Guyana’s coast on Jan. 9, 2021. The U.S. and Guyana governments enacted a bilateral agreement on Sep. 18, 2020, to cooperatively combat illegal marine activity in Guyana’s waters. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class John Hightower)

U.S. Coast Guard Lt. Cmdr. Jason McCarthey, operations officer of the USCGC Stone (WMSL 758), bumps elbows, as a COVID mitigation, with a member of the Guyana coast guard off the coast of Guyana on Jan. 9, 2021, to celebrate the joint exercise. The U.S. Coast Guard and Guyana coast guard completed their first cooperative exercise in training to combat illicit marine traffic since the enactment of a bilateral agreement between the two on Sep. 18, 2020. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class John Hightower)

U.S. Coast Guard Lt. j. g. John Cardinal supervises Petty Officer 1st Class Pamala Jensen as she coordinates helicopter operations from the aviation tower of the USCGC Stone (WSML 758) in the Caribbean Sea on Jan. 7, 2021. Since the Stone began its first patrol on Dec 22, 2020, many of its crew trained in their new positions for the first time to become fully qualified. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class John Hightower)

U.S. Coast Guard small boats from the USCGC Stone (WMSL 758) and small boats from the Guyana coast guard patrol off the coast of Guyana on Jan. 9, 2021.  (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class John Hightower)

Along the way, Stone managed to conduct a drug interdiction operation as well. LANT Area news release below:

united states coast guard

News Release

U.S. Coast Guard Atlantic Area
Contact: Coast Guard Atlantic Area Public Affairs
Office: (757) 398-6521
After Hours: uscglantarea@gmail.com
Atlantic Area online newsroom

On maiden voyage, USCGC Stone crew interdict narcotics in Caribbean

Stone launches small boat Stone stops suspect vessel

Editor’s Note: to view larger or download high-resolution images, click on the item above. 

PORTSMOUTH, Va. — While in transit to conduct joint operations off the coast of Guyana as part of Operation Southern Cross, USCGC Stone (WMSL 758) encountered and interdicted a suspected narcotic trafficking vessel south of the Dominican Republic Thursday.  
Having stopped the illicit activity, Stone handed off the case to the USCGC Raymond Evans (WPC 1110), a fast response cutter from Key West, Florida, and continued their patrol south. 
Early Thursday, acting on information from a maritime patrol aircraft, the Stone crew approached the vessel of interest and exercised U.S. Coast Guard authorities to stop their transit and interdict illicit maritime trade. 
The USCGC Raymond Evans arrived on the scene shortly after. A Coast Guard boarding team from the Raymond Evans conducted a law enforcement boarding, testing packages found aboard the vessel, revealing bales of cocaine estimated at 2,148.5 lbs (970 kgs) total.

Stone’s crew remained on scene during the search of the vessel to assist if need. Following the boarding, the Raymond Evans crew took possession of the contraband and detained the four suspected narcotics trafficking vessel members. They are working with the U.S. Coast Guard 7th District and Department of Justice on the next steps. 
“USCGC Stone is a highly-capable multipurpose platform and ready to conduct missions to save lives, support lawful activities on the high seas, and highlight and build Coast Guard partnerships with other nations.  I am not surprised that Stone interdicted drug smugglers – it is what the Captain, crew, and every U.S. Coast Guard member is prepared to do every day underway.  Stone’s crew is exhibiting the highest professional competence, reinforcing that Stone is well-suited to help our partners in the South Atlantic expose and address illicit activities in the maritime domain. These transnational criminal activities – be it illegal fishing or the trafficking of people, drugs, money, etc.  – challenge global security, and only together can we combat these threats.”
– Vice Adm. Steven Poulin, commander of U.S. Coast Guard Atlantic Area
 “I’m very proud of the crew for completing this evolution safely and making an immediate impact on our first patrol. This case illustrates that Stone is a competent partner, and our crew is ready for the front-lines. We look forward to our upcoming engagements, first with Guyana.”
– Capt. Adam Morrison, commanding officer of USCGC Stone (WMSL 758)

“Our teammates aboard USCGC Stone are helping keep our shared neighborhood – the Western Hemisphere- safe, successfully stopping illicit narcotics smuggling, while continuing their equally important mission to counter predatory and irresponsible IUU fishing, a growing threat to our partner nations’ sovereignty and our collective regional security.”

- Rear Adm. Andrew J. Tiongson, director of operations, U.S. Southern Command

 Quick Facts
– Operation Southern Cross is a multi-month deployment to the South Atlantic countering illegal, unregulated, and unreported fishing while strengthening relationships for maritime sovereignty and security throughout the region.

– Stone’s patrol demonstrates the U.S. commitment to the established rules-based order while addressing illegal activity wherever a U.S. Coast Guard cutter is deployed.”

– Illegal, Unreported, and Unregulated fishing is a pervasive, far-reaching security threat. One in five fish caught worldwide likely originate from IUU fishing. 
 – Healthy fish stocks underpin the food security of coastal communities, maritime regions, and entire nation-states. 
 – The U.S. Coast Guard has been the lead agency in the United States for at-sea enforcement of living marine resource laws for more than 150 years. 

– The U.S. Coast Guard is uniquely positioned to combat IUU fishing and uphold the rule of law at sea. The Service is keen to share knowledge and partner with like-minded nations. 
 – The U.S. Coast Guard is recognized worldwide for our ability to perform diverse maritime missions over vast geographic areas. The U.S. Coast Guard’s value to the Nation resides in its enduring commitment to protect those on the sea, protect the United States from threats delivered by the sea, and protect the sea itself.

– As a military, law enforcement, regulatory, and humanitarian service, the U.S. Coast Guard relies upon various authorities and partnerships to enhance our capability and capacity throughout the maritime domain.
– Patrols like Stone’s support U.S. initiatives to strengthen and fortify effective governance and cooperation with our partner nations to address destabilizing influences – illegal narcotics and fishing that are high on that list. 
 USCGC Stone
 – The ship, one of the Legend-class, is named for the U.S. Coast Guard’s first aviator, Cmdr. Elmer “Archie” Fowler Stone.
 – Stone is the ninth National Security Cutter. They are a multi-mission platform — 418 feet (127 meters) long with a 54-foot beam and displace 4,500 tons with a full load. They have a top speed of 28 knots, a range of 12,000 miles, an endurance of 60 days, and a crew of around 120.

“sUAS for NSC continues accelerated production schedule” –CG-9

PACIFIC OCEAN (Feb. 25, 2011) Guy Mcallister, from Insitu Group, performs maintenance on the Scan Eagle unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) aboard the amphibious dock landing ship USS Comstock (LSD 45). Scan Eagle is a runway independent, long-endurance, UAV system designed to provide multiple surveillance, reconnaissance data, and battlefield damage assessment missions. Comstock is part of the Boxer Amphibious Ready Group, which is underway in the U.S. 7th Fleet area of responsibility during a western Pacific deployment. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Joseph M. Buliavac/Released)

Below is a story from the Acquisitions Directorate (CG-9) updating the Coast Guard’s acquisition of small Unmanned Air Systems (sUAS), with particular focus on those being used on the Bertholf class cutters.

“,,,2,600 flight hours on 14 NSC patrols” as mentioned below translates to about 186 flight hours per patrol. As I recall, when we were using an attached helicopter for searches, four hours per day was about the best we could expect. It appears that, for the search function, the sUAS at least approximates that of a manned helicopter.

Hopefully, when on interdiction missions, we are using the Operations Research derived search patterns for detecting a non-cooperative moving target, rather than the typical SAR search patterns which assume a non-moving cooperative target.

I have to question the description “narco-terrorists” for those captured. Narcotics trafficers certainly, terrorists, maybe not.

sUAS for NSC continues accelerated production schedule

The unmanned aircraft sensor payload capability is varied based on the Coast Guard’s desired mission and search conditions: MWIR 3.5 is a mid-wave infrared for thermal imaging capability, for use at night or periods of low visibility; EO-900 is a high-definition telescopic electro-optical (EO) imager to zoom in on targets at greater distance; and ViDAR is a visual detection and ranging wide-area optical search system that is a comprehensive autonomous detection solutions for EO video. Courtesy Photo.

The Coast Guard small unmanned aircraft system for the national security cutter (NSC) program recently completed the system operation verification test for the unmanned aircraft system (UAS) installation on Coast Guard Cutter Bertholf, the sixth NSC to be equipped with UAS capability. This milestone is the latest in a series of key acquisition program activities to accelerate the scheduled for equipping the first eight NSCs with UAS capability. Installations underway on Coast Guard cutters Hamilton and Midgett have expected completions in January 2021 and March 2021, respectively.

Since the first installation, the UAS capability has completed more than 2,600 flight hours on 14 NSC patrols. Since their deployment, UAS platforms have supported 53 interdictions, assisted in the seizure of 48 tons of illicit narcotics worth over $1.2 billion and helped facilitate the capture of 132 narco-terrorists.

The UAS capability on the NSCs has also been used to:

  • Provide real-time damage assessments of the Bahamas in the aftermath of Hurricane Dorian in September 2019. This event was the first time the Coast Guard used UAS overland for humanitarian relief efforts; the added surveillance capability allowed the service to focus recovery assets on emergent search and rescue and critical infrastructure needs.
  • Aid a medical evacuation off a container ship in the Bering Sea, saving one life.
  • Aid in a person-in-the-water search and rescue case off Hawaii in September. Work groups are underway to determine how to use UAS for search and rescue in the future.
  • Identify more than 35 Chinese vessels illegally fishing by sorting through 150+ Automatic Identification System contacts in a fishing fleet off the coast of the Galapagos Islands.

The deployment of an UAS-enabled NSC and its comprehensive sensor suite packages can support day and night operations. UAS capability can conduct surveillance, detection, classification and identification of a wide range of targets, and is capable of up to 18+ hours of continuous flight time per day.

The Coast Guard is deploying a contractor-owned, contractor-operated solutions to provide UAS capability onboard the NSCs; the current contract includes options that could extend service through June 2026. The Coast Guard is also conducting preliminary efforts to explore the potential benefits of deploying UAS across several surface, and potentially land-based, platforms.

For more information: Unmanned Aircraft Systems program page

“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.