The Coast Guard's Secret New Weapon

The Coast Guard's Secret New Weapon
Posted by FoM on March 14, 2000 at 08:51:53 PT
By Linda Robinson 
Source: U.S. News & World Report
Aboard The USCG Cutter Gallatin-The glistening Caribbean is a tourists' delight. But vacationers aren't the only ones cruising its turquoise waterways these days. The Windward Passage around the islands of Cuba, Hispaniola, and Jamaica is the most direct and favored route for drug smugglers piloting small, high-speed boats loaded with cocaine and marijuana bound for the United States. 
Nearly half the narcotics that entered the United States last year went through the Caribbean, 61 percent on "go-fast" smuggling boats specially designed to elude clunky cutters operated by the Coast Guard, the only U.S. law enforcement agency with authority to stop vessels on the high seas. These sleek crafts, powered by two to four 250 horsepower motors, ride low in the water, hugging the waves, almost invisible to radar or tracking aircraft. Even if spotted, they can easily outrun the Coast Guard's aging cutters. Like last month, when two sluggish Coast Guard ships pursued smugglers for 13 hours over 250 miles only to watch helplessly as the boat finally raced out of reach. Winning force. Two weeks later, the cutter Gallatin gave chase to what turned out to be the very same boat and crew; this time they didn't get away. As the smugglers' boat sped toward Jamaica's territorial waters, where it would be safe from Coast Guard interdiction, the cutter launched its secret new weapon: a high-tech helicopter and a rigid-hull inflatable boat. They closed in on the traffickers, who as usual ignored their blue lights, sirens, and other warnings. Acting under a new policy that allows them to use nonlethal force, a gunner aboard the Coast Guard boat loaded the grenade launcher of his M-16 and began firing rubber pellets at the fleeing suspects. Ducking and diving below the gunwales, the drug runners gave up when the sixth round ricocheted around their craft. As the guardsmen towed the men, the boat, and 56 bales of marijuana back to the Gallatin, the entire crew gathered at the rails to cheer the rare victory.The Coast Guard is hoping its new policy will mark the beginning of a new era in which they nab more criminals than they lose. In an effort to get the upper hand, Commandant Adm. James Loy last year OK'd a pilot program under which the Gallatin and its sister ship, the Seneca, were equipped with two new MH-90 helicopters and a pair of RIBs, as the inflatables are known. These faster vessels make it easier to catch the speedboats; new measures–all nonlethal–help them stop suspects without killing them. Among them: nets made of Kevlar fabric that snarl boat propellers, and "stingball" grenades that flash and bang but release no shrapnel. If all else fails, the unit is authorized to shoot out the boat's engines."We've been trying to hit a nail with a screwdriver, not a hammer, all these years," says the Gallatin's captain, Steve Branham. "We finally have a tool that works," he adds, pointing out that the crew apprehended all five smuggler boats detected over the past year; the previous average was 1 in 10. One day last fall, the crew was eating breakfast when they spotted smugglers brazenly zipping by. The MH-90 sped to intercept the boat. The smugglers ignored warning shots fired by the helicopter gunner. So the gunner lowered his .50-caliber sniper rifle and shot out one of the boat's engines. The boat hobbled on defiantly, but a second shot brought it to a halt. The Coast Guard inflatable boat closed in for arrests. And, on a moonless night last week, MH-90 pilots and gunner donned night vision goggles to practice homing in on their "target" with infrared aids. The helicopter is also equipped with a video camera that has provided crucial evidence leading 12 of 17 suspects to be convicted or plead guilty. "It used to be so discouraging watching them get away," says one crew member winding up his tour, who prior to this year had only two busts in a dozen years. The successes helped boost the Coast Guard to a record 56 tons in drug seizures last year, and it is on course to set a new record in 2000.The Coast Guard has long cherished its white-hat image of rescuing distressed seafarers, but it also has key frontline national security missions, confronting increased migrant smuggling and seaborne drug-trafficking. The agency's budget request for next year includes $17.2 million for the new program. While there's no magic bullet in the drug war, it appears the "Coasties" have found a way to crack the go-fast problem– if Congress agrees to foot the bill. U.S. News - March 20, 2000© U.S.News & World Report Inc. CannabisNews Articles On The Coast Guard & Caribbean:
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Comment #3 posted by dddd on March 16, 2000 at 00:23:32 PT
Once again,I wonder if U.S News & World Report got money from the ONDCPs',media anti drug budget for this article?...dddd
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Comment #2 posted by Freedom on March 14, 2000 at 12:21:10 PT
-the entire crew gathered at the rails to cheer the rare victory.Hip hip hurrah. I feel so much safer knowing that marijuana has been confiscated.The traffikers are increasingly shooting back at us:
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Comment #1 posted by kaptinemo on March 14, 2000 at 09:23:19 PT:
And how long before the narcos start
shooting back?There is a sort of tender naivete that the DrugWarriors always seem to engage in: we can shoot them, but they won't shoot us. Why? Because *we're* the COPS! We're the US government! Pity the Lebanese, the Iraqis and Somalis weren't suitably impressed with that. They wound up killing our boys, and for what?The narcos have shown exactly what they think of governments; scores of police, judges, pols, even a Presidential contender have been killed in Mexico. And not just with 'Saturday Night Specials', but AK asault rifles, RPG grenade launchers, you name it. They can afford to heavily arm themselves. And if they think they can get away with it, they'll turn their weapons on a Coast Guard helicopter. (Which is far more vulnerable than you think; vets here know what FOD means: Foreign Object Damage like a bullet through a jet intake can cause a million dollar jet turbine to become a bomb hurling superheated metal and burning fuel in all directions. Not very pretty)There is an old game in brinkmanship - the measured retaliation. How far can you go, how hard can you hit before your opponent either gives up - or lays into you with everything he has? The narcos have trillions of dollars in cash to buy anything they want. And there's always someone willing to sell something; the narcos are living proof of that. All they lack right now is the will to use that cash for defensive purposes of a scale necessary to take on the US. Back this particularly rabid rat into a corner, and the results might well be a Pyhric victory; the US wins, but in winning, is infected by political rabies of tyranny. Is it worth it? Especially when by legalizing and controlling drugs, you can simply cause the rat to die of quick starvation?Beats being shot at, doesn't it?
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