By RICHARD R. BURGESS, Managing Editor
WASHINGTON — The Coast Guard’s deputy commandant for operations has high praise for the littoral combat ship (LCS) as a platform for intercepting drug-running boats.
“What an incredible ship … tailor-made for that mission set,” said VADM Charles D. Michel, speaking of the LCS Dec. 4 to an audience at the Defense Forum, an event sponsored by the U.S. Naval Institute.
The LCS has performed drug interdiction operations in the Caribbean Sea area in support of Joint Inter-Agency Task Force South (JIATF-South), the drug-interdiction headquarters in Key West, Fla. The LCSs supported the task force during transits to their new homeport, San Diego, by way of the Panama Canal.
The high speed of the LCS plus its helicopter capability and now Fire Scout unmanned aerial vehicle capability make it suitable for running down the go-fast boats favored by drug runners.
Michel, a previous director of JIATF-South, said that a shortage of surface vessels was the main challenge in the drug interdiction effort in the Caribbean area. The over-tasked Coast Guard cutters have been augmented for decades by the Navy’s Perry-class frigates, but they are being retired at a rapid rate, with the last ones scheduled for decommissioning in fiscal 2015.
Navy RADM Kevin M. Donegan, acting deputy chief of naval operations for operations, plans and strategy, also speaking at the forum, said the Navy is looking realistically at other platforms for drug interdiction as the frigates are decommissioned, including joint high-speed vessels, coastal patrol ships and other platforms.
“The high-end assets are not going to get placed down there, given the other things that are going on in the world,” Donegan said, speaking of the cruisers and destroyers in high demand for other missions. “There is not an easy answer and there is not going to be an instantaneous fix for that issue.”
The Navy plans to base 10 Freedom-class LCSs at Naval Station Mayport, Fla., some of which could succeed the frigates in the drug interdiction role.
“When times get tough on ships down there, we just get more innovative,” Michel said, naming combatting smuggling networks as the main line of effort.
“It’s all about network identification and attack strategy,” he said. “It’s all about using whole-of-government intelligence to make the assets that we have down there as smart as possible. My goal when I was JIATF-South director was that every turn of a propeller on a ship or a plane down there should be done with specific intent.
“We still do some patrolling in the areas but [we’ve] got to really get inside those networks,” he said, “and there some very sophisticated ways that we do it, working with the intelligence community partners as well as our law enforcement partners. Probably 95 percent of the products removed down there are based on intelligence and different intelligence techniques.
“Last year, JIATF-South facilitated upwards of 100 metric tons of cocaine that was removed off the water before it could get into Central America or into cities in the United States,” he said.
Michel said that 60 percent of the cocaine “removed from planet Earth” was intercepted by the Coast Guard and Navy ships.
* Notícia publicada a Sea Power. Més enllà de la part de propaganda institucional, és bó veure que els LCS encaixin en algun tipus de missió. Si el Departament de Marina dels Estats Units aconsegueix allunyar les grapes dels contractistes de defensa, amb la seva afició a incrementar preus injustificadament, els LCS poden tenir un bon futur.