Destroyers: A Critical Resource Against Drug Smugglers

Destroyers: A Critical Resource Against  Drug Smugglers

By Steven McLoud/Dialogo
August 24, 2020

On May 2, 2020, the USS Lassen recovered more than 3,500 pounds of marijuana during a routine patrol in the Caribbean Sea.

Roughly two weeks later, the USS Pinckney recovered over 2,700 kilograms of cocaine off the Central American coast.

On June 2, the USS Preble seized 100 bales of suspected cocaine worth over $40 million.

These three ships had been deployed to the Western Hemisphere to conduct counternarcotics operations and disrupt the flow of drugs in support of Presidential National Security Objectives, which were announced on April 1.

These three ships also have another thing in common: they are all Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyers.

Named after the famed World War II destroyer squadron commander and three-time Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Arleigh Burke, the first destroyer in the class was commissioned by the Navy in 1991. These ships are large, heavily armed multi-mission vessels that boast a formidable array of weaponry that can perform a variety of tasks, including anti-submarine warfare, cruise missile strikes, intelligence gathering, boarding operations, and more.

The destroyer however, is best suited for area air defense due to its powerful radars and arsenal of anti-air missiles. These state-of-the-art radars provide 360-degree coverage at all times and can detect targets as small as a golf ball-sized radar signature at about 90 nautical miles. Larger targets, such as ballistic missiles and non-stealth aircraft, which are aircraft used by drug runners, can be detected from a greater distance.

The appeal of using destroyers, beyond their ability to launch helicopters, is the ability for these ships to remain at sea for extended periods of time without heading back to shore. A destroyer’s radar capacity provides a sharp tool in the United States’ fight against narco-traffickers and their attempt to smuggle narcotics while flying over the Caribbean Sea or the open waters of the Pacific.

U.S. Southern Command (SOUTHCOM) has listed various threats in the Western Hemisphere ranging from terrorist organizations such as the National Liberation Army (ELN, in Spanish), the Nicolás Maduro regime in Venezuela, and the increasing soft-power influence of China and Russia in South America. However, transnational criminal organizations funded by illicit drug sales in the United States have been repeatedly cited as the most destabilizing threat in the region.

“That’s a $90 billion a year enterprise here in this hemisphere, principally fueled by cocaine and other illicit commodities,” said U.S. Navy Admiral Craig S. Faller, SOUTHCOM commander, during a U.S. Department of Defense press briefing on March 12, 2020. “Recognizing these complex challenges in our neighborhood, we will see an increase in U.S. military presence in the hemisphere.

That presence has included ships, aircraft, and security forces in conjunction with partner nation forces to help counter these threats, which include narcoterrorism.

Since the announcement on April 1, the U.S. has deployed a rotating force of seven destroyers: USS Kidd, USS Pinckney, USS Halsey, USS Preble, USS Lassen, USS Nitze, and USS Farragut.