Drug smuggling into the United States from South America presents a significant ongoing national security threat. Financial gains from smuggling provide drug cartels with funds for increased drug manufacturing and the purchase of weapons, exacerbating violence at the Mexican border and in the United States. Illegal drug entry into the U. S. involves land, air and sea trafficking activities. Maritime smuggling from Mexico or the Caribbean to the United States are critical ports of entry which require additional resources. These activities include the use of cargo containers, fishing boats, low-profile vessels, go-fast vessels, and narco submarines (both fully or semi-submersible). Some vessels are designed to allude surveillance by use of camouflage paint while others present a low radar cross section to avoid detection. A recent U. S. Coast Guard report cited that “annually, the Coast Guard interdicts more than three times the amount of cocaine seized at our borders and within the U. S. combined. ” It is believed that 90% of the cocaine being brought to the U. S. includes sea travel during the smuggling process. Despite the large amounts being seized, the Coast Guard is only able to interrupt about 20% of smuggled drugs due to limited resources. Consequently, the need exists for a long-term cost-effective surveillance capability that leverages available technology and assets.
A joint U. S. Coast Guard, Navy, and Drug Enforcement Agency program should be directed by the White House to improve current maritime drug smuggling surveillance and detection methods. Hydrophones are an underwater microphone which can be used as part of a system to identify vessels based on their unique sound signature. During the Cold War the U. S. Navy created the Sound Surveillance System (SOSUS) to monitor for, and provide early detection, of Soviet submarines. Creation of a similar program for use by the USCG would provide a more precise long-term cost-effective technique to replace current high expense surveillance with aircraft and ships. Past experience in SOSUS will allow the Navy to assist the USCG in placement of a hydrophone network to surveille known or expected high density drug traffic routes. Following placement of the hydrophones, the USCG will create a database of sounds. Every maritime vessel creates a unique mechanical sound signature. Once collected, sound signatures will be added to the database and correlated to the vessel responsible for them. This database will be an ongoing project, as new vessels will need to be classified as a target for interdiction or not. Those that are not classified as a taget are included in the database, so future contacts can be safety ignored, thus conserving resources.
Use of the hydrophone network will provide significant strategic data, including the idenification of emerge routes. When a suspicious vessel has been identified by the hydrophone system, a drone will be dispatched to assess the target to discriminate non-concerning leisure or commercial vessels from those involved in trafficking. Drone pilots can be obtained from those currently employed by the Navy or the DEA.
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