The Coast Guard has been on patrol since 1790, and it has often had to do a lot with very little in the way of assets. Now, some of the assets it does have may be relatively useless.
According to a veteran Coast Guard officer who published his concerns in Proceedings magazine, a number of the major cutters (those over 210 feet in length) are “ill-equipped—and often ill-suited—to handle the challenges and dangers in their areas of operation.” Furthermore, one 210-foot cutter was in dry dock for six months, with two more months at the pier when it should have deployed, due to “unplanned maintenance.”
Drills for the crew are focused more on damage control than maritime law enforcement.
“By continuing its over reliance on the cutter—specifically, large cutters measuring 210 feet and longer—the Coast Guard has fallen behind and become a stagnant force in the maritime domain,” write Lt. David Allan Adams, Jr. “This is, of course, not because of a lack of effort by the hardworking Coasties stationed on cutters, but rather because the white hull fleet is well over 50 years old and ill-equipped—and often ill-suited—to handle the challenges and dangers in their areas of operation.”
Even the newest Coast Guard cutters, the Legend-class National Security Cutters that are replacing the Hamilton-class high-endurance cutters, have had issues, with a 2016 report from McClatchy news service noting that the new ships suffered four cracked cylinder heads a year.
“Junior officers stationed on cutters can testify to the poor material condition of the cutters and the disillusionment cutter life can instill,” Adams wrote. “The life of a JO is not about conducting law enforcement or conning the cutter — as promised at recruitment — but more about routing and correcting memorandums, being held accountable should an inspection go poorly, and striving to perform in the arena in which the JOs’ future is truly held: the underway wardroom.”
The problem has been widespread. A 2014 NJ.com report noted that 34 cutters and 37 patrol boats were unable to deploy for a combined total of 1,654 days. The Coast Guard has also been very short on icebreakers, with one of its most capable vessels in that mission stuck at the pier.
The Coast Guard, of course, has a substantial job, with a mission to secure America’s maritime borders, which run six times the length of the U.S.-Mexico border, and it does so with two-thirds of the personnel of United States Customs and Border Protection.
The Coast Guard is planning to build 25 Offshore Patrol Cutters to replace the aging medium endurance cutters, a deal expected to cost $10.5 billion, roughly $420 million per vessel. By comparison, a Freedom-class littoral combat ship sets taxpayers back $362 million.
So, you might ask yourself, “why continue running these kinds of routes when they piss off China?” After all, the Hopper was warned off by a Chinese Communist missile frigate and Scarborough Shoal, the island in question, isn’t even inhabited — what’s the point?
So, in addition to disputing the claims of the Chinese in the South China Sea, these near-passes provide an opportunity to get a good look at the electronic emissions and other military capabilities on island bases.
The United States Navy calls these close passes “freedom of navigation” exercises. The term sounds innocent enough, but similar exercises resulted in brief battles with Libya in 1981, 1986, and 1989, which included the sinking of two Libyan naval vessels and the downing of Su-22 “Fitter” and MiG-23 “Flogger” combat jets by F-14 Tomcats. In one instance in the 1980s, a pair of Soviet frigates bumped the Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruiser USS Yorktown and the Spruance-class destroyer USS Caron.
Currently, the freedom of navigation exercises have not drawn hostile fire from Chinese Communist forces. However, it has not been unusual for American planes to be buzzed by ChiCom jets, as happened on multiple occasions in 2017, one of which mirrored a secne in the 1986 blockbuster film Top Gun. In 2001, a ChiCom J-8 “Finback” collided with a United States Navy EP-3E Aries electronic surveillance aircraft, which, as a result, had to make an emergency landing.
Members of the U.S. Air Force Reserve’s 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron assisted the U.S. Coast Guard with a search and rescue mission Sept. 11, 2018, locating a white 41-foot Bali sailing catamaran after completing their mission for Hurricane Florence.
The vessel was making a trans-Atlantic voyage from Portugal to the Bahamas, and was not responding.
The U.S. Coast Guard asked the aircrew to locate, make contact with the missing vessel via VHF radio frequencies, and provide information about the vessel, the number of passengers, safety, and emergency equipment.
“After receiving the request from the U.S Coast Guard to assist with locating a sailboat, I forwarded the information to the aircraft commander to gather information about their intentions due to the storm, the vessel’s capability and equipment,” said Lt. Col. Thomas Moffatt, 53rd WRS navigator. “This isn’t the first time we have conducted a search and rescue mission, because as aviators and even mariners, we have a duty to render assistance.”
After traveling toward the last known location of the vessel, members of the crew hailed the boat, and received a reply. The Hurricane Hunters then turned to the new coordinates obtained from the sailboat crew in order to locate them.
Hurricane Florence approaching the United States on Sept. 12, 2018.
Members of the U.S. Navy and the U.S. Coast Guard, who occasionally fly with the 53rd WRS, assisted the Hurricane Hunters by searching the ocean below for the sailboat, which was located within 10 minutes of arriving at the location.
Once the sailboat crew was located, the aircrew circled the area and continued gathering information, which was relayed to the Coast Guard. The sailboat crew was notified about Hurricane Florence and after their destination and intent was received, the Hurricane Hunters headed back to Savannah, Georgia.
Maj. Brandon Roth, 53rd WRS pilot said, “Although our primary mission is to gather data from storms, we are trained to render assistance in emergencies that occur in the open waters, and often times, we are the only ones available to assist because of that mission.”
Between September 12 and 23rd, the USS Ronald Reagan, nine surface ships, and the Bonhomme Richard amphibious ready group, which includes three amphibious vessels, are taking part in the US-only naval exercise Valiant Shield.
Unlike multi-national drills that often focus on disaster relief, this exercise will focus on hard warfighting capabilities.
Ships will work together on anti-submarine warfare, amphibious assaults, defensive counter-air operations and intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance with an important twist:
“Guided-missile destroyer USS Curtis Wilbur will be assigned to the ESG [expeditionary strike group] to increase the strike group’s capabilities to conduct a range of surface, subsurface and air defense missions, to include naval gunfire support,” a Navy statement reads.
Basically, the US Navy will operate outside of its normal format of carrier strike groups, with surface combatants defending the valuable aircraft carrier and an amphibious ready group, with helicopter carriers and landing craft, being supported by destroyers.
On the other side of the world, the US Navy has already implemented this bold new strategy in its operations with the USS Wasp, a helicopter carrier currently taking the fight to ISIS in Libya.
Instead of the full suite of landing craft and support vessels, the Wasp is holding its own off the coast of Libya with the USS Carney.
“The USS Wasp with the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit embarked, and the USS Carney, which replaced the USS The Sullivans, have been supporting US precision airstrikes at the request of [Libya’s Government of National Accord] since Aug. 1. As such, Harriers and Cobras assigned to the USS Wasp have been used to conduct strikes, with the USS Carney providing over watch support,” US Africa Command spokeswoman Robyn Mack told USNI News.
Not only does the destroyer protect the Wasp, an extremely valuable asset, it also assists in its mission by firing illumination rounds from its guns on deck, which light the way for US and allied forces. The other helicopter carriers in the region don’t have these deck guns.
Meanwhile, the single destroyer protecting the Wasp frees up the other amphibious ready group’s ships to sail in other regions with other fleets.
For the specific mission of carrying out airstrikes in Libya, the Wasp has no plans to stage a landing or take a beach. Therefore it’s a careful allocation of resources that allows the US Navy to be more flexible.
The Chief of Naval Operations, John Richardson, recently testified to Congress that the demand for US aircraft carriers is way up. Smaller helicopter carriers doing the work of more massive Nimitz class carriers helps to free up those machines and crews, and as new technologies, like the F-35B and C hit the field, the US can maintain its advantage of having a floating, mobile air base anywhere in the world in a few days notice.
At a time when the US Navy has fewer ships than US naval planners would like, the clever and evolving deployment of assets makes all the difference.
The Air Force’s pilot shortage has leaders worried not only about filling gaps in the immediate future, but also how the military and civilian airlines may suffer without fine-tuned aviators in decades to come.
As a result, Air Mobility Command at Scott Air Force Base, Illinois, if given permission, may start a small group tryout for pilots testing a new program in which aviators stay at their home-duty stations longer, thus increasing their longevity and likelihood to stay in service, the head of the command told Military.com in an exclusive interview.
“Should we go with a ‘fly-only’ track?” Gen. Carlton Everhart II said in an interview July 26.
Everhart said he envisions something like this: “You stay with me for 20 years, and I let you fly. You … could maybe [make] lieutenant colonel, but you may not make higher than that.”
“Then, [we] allow you to stay at your home station for three to four years instead of two to three, so you can get some longevity,” he continued. “Then, it’s not just [flying airlift cargo or tanker planes]. You could go to [Air Education and Training Command] and help out there for three to four years to help bring on new pilots.”
“To sweeten the deal, as you come into your career, maybe in the last four years, we allow you on a ‘dream sheet’ to put your top three choices, try to get you moved to there so you can establish your family and where you want to retire,” he said.
Everhart said the ‘fly-only’ effort would still encompass wing, squadron, and group duties and deployments but — bottom line — “it’s longevity.”
The same aviator retention bonuses would also apply, he said.
“The idea being explored is seeking airmen volunteers for a professional ‘fly-only’ aviator track comprised of anywhere from 5 to 10 percent of the AMC flying force,” said Col. Chris Karns, spokesman for the command, in an email. “This small group of airmen would be linked to flying jobs throughout a career.”
AMC has nearly 49,000 active-duty members and civilians; 42,000 Air Reserve component military; and 35,000 Air National Guard members, according to the command.
The mobility Air Forces has roughly 8,500 total force pilots. Throughout the Air Force, active-duty mobility pilots total 5,125, Karns said. Active-duty pilots assigned to AMC installations total 2,866.
How airmen will be selected for the ‘fly-only’ program is still being determined, the officials said, as well as how many will be involved.
Everhart said his teams are looking at the program to establish more fixed methodology behind the effort, but would like to “look at it in the next three to four months” to begin a trial run.
“There’s certain things we have to do to code these folks … and I’ve introduced the notion and got a tentative nod from [Air Force Chief of Staff Gen David Goldfein],” he said. “I think there’s merit there, but I’ve just got to work all the way through it, then do the small group tryout and see where we go.”
“I’m not taking anything off the table because I need them with me, I need them to fly with me,” he said.
The Issues Wearing Out Pilots
Goldfein and Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson have said the service was 1,544 pilots short by fiscal 2016, which includes 1,211 total force fighter pilots — with the deficit expected to grow.
Everhart said the Air Force stands potentially to lose 1,600 pilots who are eligible to separate from the service in the next four years.
He has been working with an AMC aviation retention task force for the past few months, trying to come up with recommendations as a result of airman feedback.
That feedback includes: Flying has become secondary to administrative duties; airmen desire more stability for themselves and their families; they lack support personnel; and they fear the impact of service politics on their career paths.
Airman feedback has resulted in one concrete move — the removal of additional duties, a common complaint.
In August, the service began removing miscellaneous responsibilities known as “additional duties” typically assigned to airmen at the unit level. It has since cut 29 of 61 additional duties identified under Air Force Instruction 38-206, “Additional Duty Management.”
Some duties were reassigned to commander support staffs, and civilians will be hired to take on some other duties in coming months.
Other areas are also getting scrutiny: Officials are looking at accession and promotion rates, giving commanders more freedom to think of creative solutions, and working with US Transportation Command to look at deployment requirements, Everhart said.
“We’re working hand-in-hand with headquarters Air Force A3 … so we don’t get in crossways with each other, and can we, as solution sets, put these across the entire broad perspective of the Air Force,” he said, referring to Lt. Gen. Mark C. Nowland, head of operations, plans and requirements.
He’s also in communication with Lt. Gen. Gina M. Grosso, the Air Force’s chief of manpower, personnel, and services, and the Air Force Personnel Center at Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph, Texas, he said.
Lessons learned from these discussions and trial programs could then be applied to the fighter pilot community, Everhart said, but that’s still a ways out.
But the Air Force is not the only organization in crisis.
Working With Civilian Airlines
Boeing Co., the US’ largest aerospace company, on July 26 said it predicts that in the next 20 years, North American airline companies will need 117,000 new pilots to keep up with commercial demands, CNN reported.
Everhart said this incentivizes both sides to work together.
Last May, the Air Force met with representatives from civilian airline corporations such as American Airlines and United; academic institutions such as Embry Riddle University, an aeronautical university; civil reserve airfleet institutions such as FedEx; and Rand Corp., a nonprofit institution that provides research and analysis studies on public policy.
The groups established working areas, Karns said, that need critical attention, such as exploring ways to make a career in aviation more desirable; finding ways to reduce the cost of earning a civilian aviation certification — for example, a debt relief program; looking at enhanced data analysis to establish a baseline for what is actually required to meet national pilot need; exploring potential alternate pathways to becoming a pilot — possibly by accelerating timelines; and improving the effectiveness of “shared resources” of pilots who fly for both the military and commercial airlines.
“We’ve got another airline meeting coming up in September,” Everhart said, in which leaders will discuss the secondary phases for these working areas.
“We need to instill in the hearts of our American public what … aviation is all about,” he said.
Rotating Air Force Assets
AMC already employs a rotational system to keep its aircraft sustainable longer.
“In an effort to extend the life service of various mobility fleets and enhance aircraft availability, we’re looking to work with the Guard and Reserve to rotate aircraft more regularly and consistently to avoid disproportionate wear-and-tear on systems,” Karns said. “What has been known as enterprise fleet management is adjusting to what is called ‘Total Force effort to sustain and modernize the fleet.’ ”
The system rotates aircraft from the three components more often in order to “shrink … and no longer have that airlift gap,” Capt. Theresa Izell, a maintenance officer, said in March during an AMC media day at Joint Base Andrews, Maryland.
Could that system be applied to the pilot gap — moving pilots flying various platforms throughout, or qualifying pilots to fly more platforms?
“I think you’ve got something there,” Everhart said. “I think we already do that with cross training. We do some cross training for airframes as far as pilots flying tankers versus cargo, but I have to explore that more. I haven’t looked at it from the human dynamic prospect — and I think that’s something to pull back [on]. I love it.”
Love for Country
Everhart reiterated that time in service always comes back to the willingness to serve.
In June, the Air Force unveiled a new tiered Aviation Bonus Program, an expansion of Aviator Retention Pay that puts into place the cap authorized for the incentive under the 2017 National Defense Authorization Act, or NDAA.
Should they choose to stay, fighter and drone pilots, for example, are slated to receive the highest maximum bonus of $35,000 a year, while special operations combat systems officers would receive the least at $10,000. Officers have until Oct. 1 to decide whether they want to extend their service.
The number of pilots taking the aviator retention bonus for AMC has also slightly declined, Karns said. In 2015, the “take-rate” of pilots choosing the bonus and choosing to re-up into the Air Force was 56 percent; in 2016, that number dropped to 48 percent, Karns said.
While bonuses matter, Everhart reiterated it’s not always about the money.
“They stay in the military because what’s in their heart, and their service to America. They really believe [in] an American fighting force. That’s why they stay,” he said.
“The bonus? Sure, that’s sweet. But that’s not why I stayed,” Everhart said. “I stayed because it’s service to the nation. And that’s what I’m finding out across the board” from other pilots.
Fortunately it won’t be a real-life World War III, but it will certainly be entertaining. As the team highlighted in their challenge video and elsewhere, the robots need some modifications to be able to fight — and upgrades to a 15-foot-tall, 12,000 pound robot don’t come cheap.
The MegaBots team was founded by Gui Cavalcanti, Matt Oehrlein, and Brinkley Warren, and it’s backed by many others, like Autodesk, a number of robotics engineers, and the creators of the television show BattleBots.
“We’re building the science fiction sports league of the future, one giant robot fight at a time,” said Gui Cavalcanti, CEO of MegaBots, in a statement.
Matt Perry wouldn’t be the first active-duty Sailor to make the jump to NASCAR, but he would be the first to make his debut by crowdfunding it.
The south Georgia native has been bombing around dirt and asphalt since the tender age of six. As a teen, he became an amateur drifter, making his way around the region while drag racing in the dirt of northern Florida. When he graduated from high school, he enlisted in the U.S. Navy, becoming a fourth-generation service member.
His passion for motorsports never went away, though. He competes in AutoCross while training for the big time at places like Willow Springs International Raceway and Irwindale Speedway.
Perry’s first stock car race came in September 2017, when he competed in the Whelen All-American Series at Meridian Speedway. He made history by becoming the first enlisted U.S. Navy Sailor to compete in NASCAR. He finished in the top ten as a NASCAR rookie.
Matt Perry is now looking to enter the 2018 season racing Super Late Models as well as Modifieds in the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series and he strives to make the NASCAR K&N Pro Series. But he needs helps — an enlisted sailor doesn’t make a lot of money.
“It has been an incredible journey to make it into NASCAR,” Perry says. “But sadly, the cost to race is too high for me to manage it by myself. I have a lifelong dream to make this a full career and won’t stop until we, as a team, have reached my goal.”
Early in the morning, before the sun even had a chance to break the Oklahoma horizon and spread its rays, the soldiers assigned to the Fort Sill Artillery Half Section here are already at work mucking stalls, grooming horses, and training for their next event.
The Half Section is a special ceremonial unit responsible for carrying on the traditions of horse-drawn artillery from the era of World War I and was established at Fort Sill in 1963.
Throughout the year, the unit attends numerous ceremonies, parades, rodeos, and other events in historically accurate attire, preserving the proud history of the field artillery.
“The soldiers I receive at the Half Section do more than just shovel manure,” said Gerald Stuck, chief of the Fort Sill Artillery Half Section. “They learn in depth about the role field artillery has played in our history. They pay tribute to the soldiers who came before them by wearing nearly the same uniforms they wore. They study up on the wars and conflicts that shaped us as an Army, so when presented questions by onlookers they can answer with confidence.”
Sgt. Robert O’Steen, Half Section noncommissioned officer in charge, saddles up and rides Valcourt. Soldiers must first pass a 30-day trial period, which includes a bareback riding test.
(Photo by Dustin D. Biven)
In addition to performing at events, soldiers assigned to the Half Section are also entrusted with looking after and caring for several horses, each with their own unique personality.
“When I say the horses have their own personality, I mean it,” laughed Sgt. Robert O’Steen, Half Section noncommissioned officer in charge, who’s assigned to the 15th Transportation Company, 100th Brigade Support Battalion. “We have our playful horses, our uptight ones, and even an alpha. It’s up to us to learn and adapt our behavior to each horse specifically to build that connection needed and earn their trust.”
A Soldier assigned to the Fort Sill Artillery Half Section buffs up a Half Section belt buckle getting it ceremonially shiny.
(Photo by Sgt. Dustin D. Biven)
O’Steen went on to say that although the horses are not assigned to specific Soldiers, they always seem to pair with a soldier with a similar personality.
The Half Section is a yearlong additional tasking that places soldiers on orders to the section and provides soldiers from all over Fort Sill an opportunity to develop not just as soldiers, but as leaders.
Sgt. Robert O’Steen, Fort Sill Artillery Half Section noncommissioned officer in charge, harnesses up his horse, Valcourt, in preparation for a ceremony June 25, 2019.
(Photo by Sgt. Dustin D. Biven)
“I’ve learned a lot here at the Half Section,” said Spc. Randy Rogers, a soldier assigned to 1st Battalion, 14th Field Artillery. “Not only have I had a chance to build upon my leadership abilities by being placed in charge of training soldiers and rehearsing for events, but I’ve also been fortunate enough to learn trades like leather working and how to take care of the horses by (Mr. Stuck).”
Soldiers selected for the Artillery Half Section serve a one-year tour at Fort Sill, Okla., providing them professional development and enhanced leadership skills, along with the opportunity to serve beside some magnificent horses.
(Photo by Sgt. Dustin D. Biven)
Once soldiers have completed their time at the Half Section, they bring back to their units a years’ worth of unique experiences that could greatly improve upon their professional development and leadership potential as well as the soldiers they may mentor and train.
Soldiers assigned to the Fort Sill Artillery Half Section spend time polishing and preparing the French 75mm field gun in preparation for a ceremony June 25, 2019.
(Photo by Sgt. Dustin D. Biven)
So the next time you find yourself on Fort Sill, be sure to take the time to visit the soldiers and horses of the Fort Sill Artillery Half Section and learn more about the history of the artillery within the Army and how, with help from our four-legged friends, we became the world’s most lethal fighting force.
The shipbuilders tasked with constructing the US Navy’s next supercarrier have finished installing the flight deck, using a massive crane to place the final 780-ton piece.
The USS John F. Kennedy will be the Navy’s second Ford-class aircraft carrier after the USS Gerald R. Ford, which has been delayed due to unexpected problems and increased maintenance demands. The installation of the JFK’s upper bow at Newport News Shipbuilding early July 2019 completed the carrier’s main hull, which, at a length of 1,096 feet, is longer than three football fields.
The final piece weighed nearly 800 tons — as much as 13 main battle tanks — and took a year and a half to build. Huntington Ingalls Industry (HII) released a video of the installation.
More than 3,200 shipbuilders and 2,000 suppliers are involved in the construction of the Kennedy, which will, if everything goes according to plan, be launched later this year.
“The upper bow is the last superlift that completes the ship’s primary hull. This milestone is testament to the significant build strategy changes we have made — and to the men and women of Newport News Shipbuilding who do what no one else in the world can do,” Mike Butler, the program director for the Kennedy construction project, said in a HII statement.
While the US is not the only country to field aircraft carriers, no other country has built anything that even comes close to the new nuclear-powered Ford-class supercarriers.
China’s only operational carrier, for instance, is a previously-discarded Soviet ship that China transformed into the country’s first flattop. Russia’s situation is even worse: It’s only carrier is out of action and the foreign-made dry dock used to repair it.
While the US force of 11 carriers is much more modern and capable, the Ford-class carriers have certainly had their share of problems.
Aircraft carrier USS Gerald R. Ford.
(U.S. Navy photo by Erik Hildebrandt)
June 2019, US lawmakers expressed concern after learning that the Ford and the Kennedy would not be able to deploy with the stealthy fifth-generation F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighters when the carriers are first delivered to the Navy. A congressional staffer told reporters that it’s “unacceptable to our members that the newest carriers can’t deploy with the newest aircraft.”
And, in May 2019, the Navy admitted that the advanced weapons elevators on the Ford, systems required to quickly move ordnance to the flight deck to increase the aircraft sortie rate and the overall lethality of the ship, will not be working properly when the carrier leaves the shipyard to rejoin the fleet in October 2019.
Maintenance on the Ford was expected to wrap up in July 2019, but problems with the ship’s propulsion system, elevators, and a few other areas resulted in unplanned delivery delays.
HII says that it has leveraged the lessons learned from its work on the Ford and insists that the Kennedy is on schedule to launch in the fourth quarter of this year; the JFK’s construction is estimated to cost at least .4 billion.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
Through September 2018, Colombia’s navy had captured 14 “narco subs” on the country’s Pacific coast — more than triple the four it captured in 2017 and another sign of drug traffickers’ ingenuity.
Colombia is not alone. The US Coast Guard reported in September 2017 that it had seen a “resurgence” of low-profile vessels, the most common kind of “narco sub,” capturing seven of them since June 2017.
“We’re seeing more of these low-profile vessels; 40-plus feet long … it rides on the surface, multiple outboard engines, moves 18, 22 knots … and they can carry large loads of contraband,” Coast Guard commandant Adm. Karl Schultz told Business Insider in October 2018 during an interview aboard the Coast Guard cutter Sitkinak in New York harbor.
“They’re very stealthy in terms of our ability to see them from the air [and] to detect them by radar,” Schultz added.
US Coast Guardsmen sit on a narco sub in the Pacific Ocean in early September 2016.
(US Coast Guard photo)
‘Era of experimentation’
Low-profile vessels were the earliest kind of narco sub, a category that includes self-propelled semi-submersibles, which use ballast to run below the surface, and true submarines, which are the most rare.
They emerged in the early 1990s, as traffickers who had made a fortune moving drugs into the US — like George Jung and members of Pablo Escobar’s Medellin cartel — encountered more obstacles.
“In the ’80s, the drug traffickers … were using go-fast boats, they were using twin-engine aircraft, and those were very easily detected by radar systems that we had,” particularly in the Caribbean and the southeastern US, said Mike Vigil, former chief of international operations for the US Drug Enforcement Administration.
“So they started to counter those efforts by building submarines or semi-submersibles, because they were much more difficult to detect,” Vigil added. “They were made out of … wood, fiberglass, and then sometimes they had a lead lining that would reduce their infrared signature.”
The early 1990s was “the era of experimentation,” for Colombian narco subs, according to Vigil, who was stationed on the country’s Caribbean coast at the time and recalls encounters with them on the Magdelena River, which stretches nearly 1,000 miles from southwest Colombia to the Caribbean.
“They were not full-fledged submarines. They would float … just slightly underneath the water, but you could still see the tower, and they were not sophisticated at all,” he said. “Their navigational systems were poor; communications systems were poor.”
There are varying figures for how many narco subs have been caught over the years.
The first such vessel seen at sea by US law enforcement was intercepted in 2006, carrying 3 tons of cocaine about 100 miles off Costa Rica’s Pacific coast. The first one encountered in the Caribbean was stopped in summer 2011 — despite efforts to scuttle it, US authorities were able to recover 14,000 pounds of cocaine.
Criminal groups in Colombia continue to churn out homemade narco subs — 100 a year, according to Vigil — building them in the interior and using the country’s extensive river network, where law enforcement is scarce, to get them to sea.
The technology has advanced, and criminal groups, flush with profits from Colombia’s booming cocaine production, have been able deploy more sophisticated vessels for covert runs to Central America and Mexico, where cargos then move overland to the US. The routes have also grown more circuitous, likely to avoid detection at sea.
Better technology “has upped the chess game” between criminals and the military and law enforcement, Vigil said.
Suspected drug-smuggling routes in the eastern Pacific Ocean in 2016.
(US Southern Command)
‘A drop in the bucket’
The recent increase in low-profile vessels intercepted by authorities indicates traffickers will adjust their tactics.
“There was certainly an uptick where the semi-submersibles were being utilized quite frequently, and then we had a lot of success against them,” Lt. Cmdr. Devon Brennan, head of the Coast Guard’s Maritime Safety and Security Team in New York, said during an interview aboard the Sitkanik.
“The drug-trafficking organizations are very agile and adept organizations, so they try to shift back,” Brennan said. “For one reason or another, they thought [low-profile vessels] might be a better option because of the success we’ve had against the [self-propelled semi-submersibles], so we have seen an increase in them.”
“This thing called the low-profile vessel, it’s evolutionary,” Schultz said. “The adversary will constantly adapt their tactics to try to thwart our successes.” The increase “reflects the adaptability, the malleability” of traffickers, he added.
Schultz and Brennan both emphasized that the Coast Guard is having success capturing narco subs. And Colombian officials have said that intercepting those vessels at sea — along with arresting traffickers on land — lands a serious blow to criminal organizations.
A abandoned low-profile vessel found by the Guatemalan coast guard on April 22, 2017.
(Guatemalan army / US Southern Command)
Vigil was skeptical of the true impact, saying the DEA estimated at least 30% to 40% of drugs coming to the US were moving on narco subs, but authorities were likely only intercepting 5% of those vessels.
“They may be capturing more but, again, that’s because there’s a hell of a lot more being using to smuggle drugs,” Vigil said. (Coast Guard Vice Commandant Adm. Charles Ray has said the service faces “a capacity challenge” in trying to patrol trafficking routes through the eastern Pacific, an area the size of the continental US.)
Vigil also noted that the costs seemed to favor the traffickers.
“The submarines cost id=”listicle-2611789516″ million or million … depending on the communications systems, the engine, the materials used in them, the navigational systems,” Vigil said. Even though many are likely only used once, he added, “they have absolutely no economic impact on the cartels.”
Each kilogram of cocaine is worth only a few thousand dollars in Colombia. But the multiton cargos narco subs can carry are worth hundreds of millions of dollars once they’re broken up and sold in the US or Europe.
The cost to build a narco sub is “a drop in the bucket compared to the payload that they carry,” Vigil said. “So a million, million is nothing to them.”
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
The military has very talented photographers in its ranks, and they constantly attempt to capture what life as a service member is like during training and at war. This is the best of what they shot this week:
A member of the 100th Logistics Readiness Squadron refuels a 74th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron A-10C Thunderbolt II during forward area refueling point training at Plovdiv, Bulgaria, Feb. 11, 2016. A single A-10 usually receives approximately 2,000 pounds of fuel in a four- to five-minute span during FARP training but the C-130 Hercules can provide tens of thousands of pounds of fuel if needed.
A B-2 Spirit bomber sits on the flightline prior to takeoff at Whiteman Air Force Base, Mo., for Red Flag 16-1 Feb. 2, 2016. Established in 1975, Red Flag includes command, control, intelligence and electronic warfare exercises to better prepare forces for combat.
Ohio Air National Guard members work in the early morning of Feb. 16, 2016, to remove snow from the flightline and fleet of C-130H Hercules at the 179th Airlift Wing, Mansfield, Ohio. The Ohio ANG unit is always on mission to respond with highly qualified citizen Airmen to execute federal, state and community missions.
Royal Australian Air Force Sgt. Angus Shaw, a 37th Squadron loadmaster, left, talks with two 4th Squadron combat controllers aboard a C-130J Super Hercules during Exercise Cope North 2016 over Rota, Northern Mariana Islands, Feb. 12, 2016. Exercise The exercise includes 22 total flying units and nearly 3,000 personnel from six countries and continues the growth of strong, interoperable and beneficial relationships within the Asia-Pacific region through integration of airborne and land-based command and control assets.
A U.S. Army paratrooper, assigned to 1st Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division, conducts airborne operations at Fort Hood, Texas, Feb. 9, 2016.
A soldier, assigned to 3d Cavalry Regiment, 1st Cavalry Division, pulls security during a convoy halt at the Operations Group, National Training Center, Fort Irwin, Calif., Feb. 12, 2016.
Army pilots, assigned to 25th Combat Aviation Brigade, 25th Infantry Division train with members of the U.S. Coast Guard rescue team off the coast of Honolulu, Hawaii, Feb. 16, 2016.
PACIFIC OCEAN (Feb. 16, 2016) U.S. Navy Sailors with the Boxer Amphibious Ready Group prepare MV-22B Ospreys with Medium Tilt Rotor Squadron 166 Reinforced to take off from the USS New Orleans. The Boxer Amphibious Ready Group and the 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit will be operating in the Pacific and central Commands area of responsibilities during their western pacific deployment 16-1.
SAN DIEGO, Calif. (Feb. 15, 2016) Members of the U.S. Navy Parachute Team, the Leap Frogs, perform a tethered flag during a training demonstration. The Navy Parachute Team is based in San Diego and performs aerial parachute demonstrations around the nation in support of Naval Special Warfare and Navy recruiting.
A Marine provides security for his team during the night portion of a tactical recovery of aircraft and personnel, or TRAP, training scenario at Camp Pendleton, Calif., Feb. 18, 2016. TRAP is used to tactically recover personnel, equipment or aircraft by inserting the recovery force to the objective location. The Marine is with Weapons Company, 2nd Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division.
Lance Cpl. Jarod L. Smith, a crew chief with Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 365, fires a mounted M2 Browning .50-caliber machine gun from the back of the MV-22B Osprey during a live fire training session off the coast of Marine Corps Air Station New River, N.C., Feb 10, 2016. Marines with VMM-365 flew to a landing zone, which allowed pilots to pratice CALs in their Osprey’s and then flew several miles off the coast to practice their proficiency with the .50-caliber machine gun.
Coast Guardsmen stationed aboard the Coast Guard Cutter Munro from Kodiak, Alaska, conduct helicopter in-flight refueling while on patrol in the Bering Sea, Feb. 15, 2016.
U.S. Coast Guard Station New York is helping theU.S. Coast Guard Reserve celebrate their 75th anniversary in style!
From the beaches of France and Iwo Jima in World War II, to the shores of the U.S. gulf coast for Deepwater Horizon, the USCG Reserve has been always ready.
The Philippines, a Pacific ally that has been on the front lines of US efforts to confront and deter China, especially in the contested South China Sea, notified the US on Tuesday that it was officially terminating a bilateral agreement on the status of US troops rotating in and out of the country for military exercises.
Finally following through on a threat he has made many times, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, a critic of the alliance and a proponent of a foreign policy independent of the US, said he would end the 1998 Visiting Forces Agreement.
“It’s about time we rely on ourselves,” the president’s spokesman said, according to Reuters. “We will strengthen our own defenses and not rely on any other country.”
Teodoro Locsin Jr., Duterte’s foreign secretary, tweeted late Monday that the Philippines was unilaterally terminating the agreement. The pact will end 180 days after the country notifies the US.
The US Embassy in the Philippines confirmed in a statement Tuesday that it received notice of the Philippines’ intent to end the agreement from its Department of Foreign Affairs, CNN reported.
“This is a serious step with significant implications for the US-Philippines alliance,” the statement read. “We will carefully consider how best to move forward to advance our shared interests.”
The US and the Philippines continue to be bound by the Mutual Defense Treaty and the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement, but hundreds of US military exercises with the Philippines, such as the large-scale Balikatan exercises, could be in jeopardy.
Terminating the VFA also puts US counterterrorism support, deterrence in the South China Sea, and other forms of security assistance at risk.
The Philippines has been central to the US’s efforts to counter China’s growing power. Subic Bay gives the US Navy a port to repair and resupply ships that patrol the contested South China Sea, and Air Force A-10 Thunderbolts and Marine F/A-18 Hornets have used the nearby Clark Air Base for training. US special operations troops have also assisted the government’s campaign against terror networks in the country’s south for roughly two decades.
The move to end the VFA followed the US’s decision to cancel the visa of Philippines Sen. Ronald dela Rosa, a key player in Duterte’s bloody war on drugs, the extrajudicial killings of which have resulted in the deaths of thousands of suspects and civilian bystanders.
“I’m warning you … if you won’t do the correction on this, I will terminate” the agreement, Duterte said in a televised address in late January, according to The Associated Press. “I’ll end that son of a b—-.”
While the VFA is only one part of a collection of security agreements, Philippine officials have expressed concerns that terminating it could have a domino effect.
“If the VFA is terminated, the EDCA cannot stand alone, because the basis of the EDCA is the VFA, and if the VFA is terminated, the EDCA cannot be effective,” Philippine Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon told reporters before Tuesday’s announcement, according to CNN.
Drilon added that if the visiting forces agreement and the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement “are no longer effective,” the Mutual Defense Treaty “would be inutile and would serve no purpose.”
Duterte has previously threatened to end the other bilateral agreements and called for the removal of US troops from the Philippines, often in response to American criticisms of his drug war or concerns about US efforts to push the Philippines to confront China.
Rebels in besieged areas of southwestern Syria say they are returning to negotiations with Russia over a possible pullout after an intensive bombing campaign by Russian and Syrian forces.
The move by rebel forces on July 5, 2018, comes after a brief suspension of the Moscow-brokered negotiations that have produced agreements already to return more than 30 towns to government control in the strategic zone of southern Syria bordering both Jordan and the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights.
A brief collapse of the talks on July 4, 2018, ushered in a blitz of Russian and Syrian air strikes, barrel bombs, and missiles, following a pattern Russia and Syria have pursued repeatedly to regain control over rebel territory.
The bombing barrage sent an estimated 320,000 civilians fleeing the area in what appeared to be one of the fastest displacements in Syria’s seven-year civil war, prompting an international outcry and meetings at the United Nations.
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s goal is to recapture Syria’s entire southwest, one of the last rebel strongholds in the country.
Within 24 hours of the resumed bombing, rebels said they wanted to return to negotiations, with the talks focusing on their pullout from the territory they still control in Daraa’s western countryside and the southern half of the provincial capital.
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad
Daraa is considered to be the cradle of the 2011 uprising against Assad that triggered the devastating war, which has killed more than half a million people and displaced millions.
Hussein Abazeed, spokesman for the south’s joint rebel command, accused Russia of pursuing a “scorched-earth policy” to force rebels back to the negotiating table.
As rebels agreed to renewed talks, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a war monitor, reported a halt to both Russian and Syrian government air strikes over the south.
Rebels say Russia has insisted that opposition factions hand over their heavy weapons all at once, while rebels want to relinquish their arms in several phases.
Moscow also reportedly has refused rebel requests for safe passage to opposition-held territory in other parts of Syria, as was granted to rebels who agreed to pull out of Eastern Ghouta and Aleppo.
During the renewed fighting, regime forces retook control of a security checkpoint on the Jordanian border for the first time in more than three years, the monitoring group said.
Rebels then handed some 275 square kilometers of territory near the border to government forces without a fight, said observatory chief Rami Abdel Rahman.
Nearly 150 civilians have died since the government assault in the south began two weeks ago, according to the observatory.
Many of the area’s 320,000 displaced people have been fleeing south to the borders with Jordan and the Golan Heights, the UN says.
But both Israel and Jordan have kept their borders closed, despite mounting calls to let Syrians escape to safety.
The International Rescue Committee said displaced families are struggling to cope with 45-degree heat, scorpions, and snakes in the open desert area.
Rebel territory in southern Syria was included in a cease-fire zone created last year in a deal between Washington, Amman, and Moscow, but that did little to halt the government’s assault.
Near the start of the government’s offensive, Washington indicated it would respond to violations of the cease-fire deal, but it has not done so yet and rebels said it had told them to expect no American military help.
The onslaught has sparked calls for restraint and an urgent meeting of the UN Security Council on July 5, 2018. UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned that an “estimated 750,000 lives are in danger.”
But Russia blocked the council from adopting a statement on the issue. A diplomat said on condition of anonymity there had been a fruitless push to persuade Moscow to accept a pause in fighting to distribute humanitarian aid.