With transnational criminal organizations trafficking drugs, guns, and people in South and Central America, and China, Russia, Iran, and Cuba meddling and peddling influence in the region, U.S. Southern Command (SOUTHCOM) has its hands full working to keep the neighborhood safe. Increased intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) capacity and a greater ability to offer security cooperation opportunities to partner nations can help with that, U.S. Navy Admiral Craig S. Faller, SOUTHCOM commander, said April 15.
“Modest investments in intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance, security cooperation and presence go a long way in the hemisphere and will help us and our partners counter these global threats,” Adm. Faller said during a House Appropriations Committee hearing.
In addition to threats posed by transnational criminal organizations and the involvement of China, Russia, Iran, and Cuba, environmental threats — such as hurricanes and the COVID-19 pandemic — have made keeping SOUTHCOM’s area of responsibility safe an even greater challenge, Adm. Faller told lawmakers.
“Now, more than ever, I feel a deep sense of urgency that our region is under assault from a vicious circle [of] threats,” said Adm. Faller. “And these are global threats, and they are right here, right now in our neighborhood.”
Adm. Faller told lawmakers that an increase in ISR capabilities for SOUTHCOM would be helpful to the command. Right now, he said, SOUTHCOM uses only about 1 percent of U.S. ISR capabilities.
“Our intel drives everything we do,” he said. “We turn it into knowledge; we share it where we can, particularly with our own U.S. government agencies. It helps us understand what’s on the field, and how to best respond long term.”
Adm. Faller said, in the past, a special “ISR transfer fund” provided additional funding to support ISR activities in the department — including for SOUTHCOM — but that fund wasn’t present in the FY2021 budget.
“We’ve used that ISR transfer fund money to do work in that environment, and we’ve uncovered a considerable amount of useful information that we’ve been able to pass to the host nations for their action, our law enforcement partners, and, in some cases, it’s … used to be able to illuminate malign Chinese and Russian behavior,” he said.
A big part of what SOUTHCOM offers in its area of responsibility is security cooperation through the military-to-military relationships the U.S. forges with partner nations there.
“Security cooperation is key,” he said. “That’s what builds partner capacity. That’s how we become more interoperable with partners. The U.S. has the best equipment in the world, and partners want our equipment; and it’s a long-term relationship.”
Security cooperation is key,” he said. “That’s what builds partner capacity. That’s how we become more interoperable with partners. The U.S. has the best equipment in the world, and partners want our equipment; and it’s a long-term relationship,” U.S. Navy Admiral Craig S. Faller, SOUTHCOM commander.
Adm. Faller also cited, specifically, the importance of defense attachés in U.S. embassies.
“Those are our frontlines in our embassy,” he said. “We should look at the manning of our embassies. It is very, very lightly manned for today’s competition. And then look at where we’re postured as a military and where is the United States postured? In this hemisphere, it’s the right thing to not have permanent bases, to have light locations where we can come in and out and work with our partners on their training and readiness.”