“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)

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

 

 

A Conversation with Admiral Karl Schultz, Commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard–CSIS

CSIS and the United States Naval Institute (USNI) conduct an interview with Admiral Karl L. Schultz, the 26th Commandant of the United States Coast Guard, conducted 1 August, 2018.

Below I will attempt to outline the conversation, noting the topics and in some cases providing a comment.

The first question is about immigration. Coast Guard is the “away game.” minimizing the factors that push immigration to the US.

The Commandant does not expect a substantial increase in help from the Navy, because they are already heavily tasked, but would welcome any additional help.

06:30 Talk about Inland fleet. Congressional support is evident. $25M provided so far.

9:20 House Appropriations Committee decision to divert $750M from the icebreaker program to fund “the Wall” in their markup of the FY2019 budget bill. The Commandant is “guardedly optimistic”

11:30 Human capital readiness? Operating account has been flat and effectively we have lost 10% in purchasing power. Want to increase leadership training.

16:30 Support for combatant commanders.

18:00 Capacity building and partnering. Detachments working on host nation platforms.

21:00 Defense Force planning–Not going back to the MARDEZ model.

22:30 Situation in Venezuela/Preparation for dealing with mass migration.

24:30 Arctic forums–Need to project our sovereignty

29:00 UNCLOS

30:00 Maritime Domain Awareness (MDA)

32:30 Tracking cargo as an element of MDA

34:00 Cyber

36:15 High Latitude engagement/partnerships.

39:30 Perhaps the icebreaker should be the “Polar Security Cutter?”

40:00 International ice patrol, still an important mission.

41:00 CG role in response to Chinese aggressiveness in the South China Sea. In discussion with Indo-Pacific Command. Will see more CG presence there.

44:00 Offshore Patrol Cutter (OPC)–on track

46:30 Border issue — passed on that

48:00 Small satellites–we are looking at them

49:00 African Capacity building/cooperation. May send an MEC.

51:30 Tech modernization. Looking at it more holistically.

Other Coverage:

This interview prompted a couple of notable posts.

SeaPower’s coverage of the discussion is here. They focused on the growth of demands on the Coast Guard.

Military.com reported on the possibility of a greater Coast Guard role in South East Asia and capacity building in Africa. It probably should be noted that the title, “Coast Guard Could Send Ship to Pacific to ‘Temper Chinese Influence’,”is a bit deceptive in that the Commandant’s remark about tempering Chinese Influence was in regard to Oceania, the islands of the Central and Western Pacific. The Commandant was quoted in the Seapower post, “In the Oceania region, there are places where helping them protect their interests, tempering that Chinese influence, is absolutely essential.”

Narco-Subs–Covert Shores

Fiberglass four-man craft is typical of recent LPVs. Seized by Steadfast in the Eastern Pacific. Source: Dvids

The website “Covert Shores” has a couple of posts that purportedly show the latest fashion in drug smuggling vessels, here and here. Some great photos.

Might also find this interesting, “Narco Sub 101”

Covert Shores has been added to my “Recommended Blogs” list.

“The Pentagon is poised to send the LCS to thwart narcos”–DefenseNews

USS Freedom (LCS-1)

DefenseNews is reporting,

“The military is poised to decide whether it will use the littoral combat ship to stop illegal drug shipments from South and Central America to the United States.

“The move, amid pressure from lawmakers and the military command covering the Southern Hemisphere, would signal a new intensity in combating the importing of illegal drugs amid a tidal wave of opioid deaths in the U.S. It would also mean a program that has seen near-constant churn as the Navy has struggled to integrate the ship into the fleet may see more changes ― if it does have to gear up for a new mission.

There are some surprising remarks by a retired Navy Captain, reflecting what many of us believe.

“…Ultimately, if the Congress was serious about combating drugs in SOUTHCOM, he said, it should adequately fund the Coast Guard.

“What they oughta do is take a few billion from the Defense Department’s budget and give it to the Coast Guard,” Hoffman said.

“Operating Navy ships is expensive, and, at that cost, it may not be practical to send gray hulls,” he said, adding that the Coast Guard can do the job cheaper and better.

This may also reflects a desire among many in the Navy to avoid this mission.

As a side note, I would observe that the frequent assertion that the Navy is being run ragged bears some examination as to why. It does not seem to be because the ships are underway that much. The US Naval Institute News service provides a weekly “Fleet and Marine Tracker.” You can see the most recent here. Among other things it provides a number of ships in the fleet and number of ships underway. Generally the number underway is only a little over one quarter of the fleet total, and it almost never exceeds one third.

Note, I am not saying the crews are not overworked, I am just saying, it is not because they are underway too much of the time. As I recall my days afloat, we got a lot done while underway, away from the inport distractions.

Patrol Craft Drug Interdiction in the Eastern Pacific

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

CoastGuardNews reports a drug interdiction incident that occurred in the Eastern Pacific on April 7. I don’t usually talk about individual drug busts, but this was a bit unusual.

The vessel involved wasn’t a cutter, it was a Navy Cyclone class patrol craft, the USS Zephyr (PC-8). Using Navy vessels for drug interdiction has become rare, but that was not what I think makes this significant, it is that the vessel was essentially the same size as the Webber class WPCs (387 tons full load for the Zephyr, after it was lengthened, and 353 tons for the Webber class).

If the Navy can run a PC from Florida to the Eastern Pacific transit zones, so can the Coast Guard.

We don’t have enough large cutters to exploit all the intel we have on the target rich transit zone. Perhaps we could use Webber class.

We have 18 of the class in 7th District, with six each homeported in Miami, Key West, and San Juan.

This suggest that we could keep at least three Webber class in the Eastern Pacific transit zone by rotating one from each port