UAS assists U.S. Coast Guard’s narcotics seizure for first time
By Dialogo July 31, 2013
WASHINGTON, D.C., U.S.A. – The U.S. Coast Guard recently conducted its first narcotics interdiction with the support of an unmanned aircraft system (UAS) when authorities confiscated more than 560 kilograms of cocaine off a go-fast boat in the eastern Pacific Ocean.
The UAS was being tested during the second of three planned shipboard demonstrations to gauge the system’s capabilities aboard the Coast Guard Cutter Bertholf. The demonstrations are part of an ongoing test of UAS capabilities and shipboard handling techniques.
Coast Guard officials operated a ScanEagle UAS for more than 90 hours during a two-week deployment in May.
One of the biggest highlights occurred when the ScanEagle provided real-time surveillance and information on the location of a go-fast vessel that was suspected of carrying narcotics on May 29 in the eastern Pacific Ocean. The UAS tracked the suspicious vessel until the Bertholf’s MH-65D helicopter and boats intercepted the vessel and arrested its crew members in connection with the seizure of 567 kilograms of cocaine worth an estimated US$19 million.
The cocaine was offloaded at U.S. Coast Guard Station Miami Beach, Fla., on July 1.
The narcotics-carrying vessel was initially spotted by a U.S. Customs and Border Protection aircraft, before it was tracked by the UAS and interdicted by Bertholf officers.
The UAS was evaluated by a team of technicians and aviators from Coast Guard Headquarters, the Coast Guard Research and Development Center, Coast Guard Air Station North Bend, Ore., and Insitu Inc., a Washington, D.C.-based company that makes unmanned aerial vehicles.
The Coast Guard has identified cutter-based UAS as an integral element to bolster the operational effectiveness of its major cutter fleet.
The results of the test are encouraging in how the UAS could become another weapon in the United States’ counter-narcotics fight.
The U.S. is playing a major role in Operation Martillo, an international mission that gathers partner nations to curtail illicit trafficking routes on both coasts of the Central American isthmus.
Operation Martillo, which is led by the U.S. Joint Interagency Task Force South and includes Canada, Belize, Colombia, Costa Rica, El Salvador, France, Guatemala, Honduras, the Netherlands, Nicaragua, Panama, Spain, and the United Kingdom, strives to disrupt transnational criminal organizations by limiting their ability to use Central America as a transit zone.
The operation plays a key role in the counter-narcotics fight, as about 80% of cocaine shipments are moved via maritime routes. Nearly 90% of the cocaine that reaches the United States comes through Mexico and Central America, according to the United Nations International Narcotics Control Board.
From Jan. 15, 2012 to July 17, 2013, Operation Martillo, which was launched in January 2012, resulted in the seizure of 207,740 kilograms of cocaine and 37,397 kilograms of marijuana, 472 arrests and the confiscation of 152 assets.
The Joint Interagency Task Force South and U.S. Southern Command will continue to work closely with partner nations through Operation Martillo, as 69% of the disruptions made during the past fiscal year were supported by a member nation. During the 2011 fiscal year, 59% of disruptions included a partner nation.