Consolidate Command and Control
One of the primary tenets of military doctrine is unity of command-one leader in charge of one fight. Right now, however, there are several leaders, each in charge of their own slices of the maritime drug interdiction effort. The National Drug Control Strategy directs the Coast Guard to be the lead agency for maritime interdiction, and the co-lead for air interdiction, but the large number of competing agencies directly involved in these efforts greatly complicates the situation.
For example, in Caribbean waters, the Seventh Coast Guard District manages surface interdiction efforts. Concurrently, the Joint Interagency Task Force (JIATF) in Key West oversees Department of Defense detection and monitoring efforts throughout the region. Close to shore, U.S. Customs runs a fleet of small boats, and Customs Air Branch interceptors ply the skies. The Domestic Air Interdiction Coordination Center and the Caribbean Regional Operations Center manage air surveillance and interdiction, and in the Bahamas, the Drug Enforcement Agency runs an independent operation called OPBAT. Multiple organizations with separate command-and-control networks service overlapping waters. Each agency has its own rules, its own agenda, and its own political masters in Washington.
Even an untrained observer would see the potential this creates for inefficiency, coordination difficulties, interagency friction, and confusion. The war we are fighting often is against ourselves.
You, Mr. President, can make it simple: Amend the law to place the Coast Guard Commandant, who on paper already is your designated interdiction coordinator, in charge of all resources involved in the maritime counterdrug effort. Let our Commandant, through the area and district commanders, have complete control of at-sea interdiction—from detection and monitoring to interception and inspection. All Coast Guard, Customs, and DoD assets then would fall under a central commander.
The entire campaign for a geographic region could be run from a single location. You no longer would need the command and intelligence centers concurrently run by the JIATFs, Customs, and OPBAT. Redundant communications, logistics, administrative, and support staffs would be prime candidates for the budget ax.
This proposal is not intended to limit other agencies' presence in the war on drugs. DoD, Customs, and the Drug Enforcement Agency perform services essential to the fight against the smugglers, but everyone's hard work would yield greater results if performed under a streamlined command-and-control structure. One leader for one fight—this principle must be applied if we are to be successful.
The more vessels we locate and board, the more drug seizures we make. But it takes cutters, planes, and sensors to locate the enemy.
During Frontier Shield, the Coast Guard's largest counterdrug operation to date, cutters and aircraft saturated the eastern Caribbean and disrupted smuggling throughout the region. This intense effort yielded record cocaine seizures and related arrests and forced smugglers to abandon many traditional routes. Unfortunately, we do not have the capacity to continue this full-court press without neglecting other missions. When surge forces withdrew, the smugglers resumed their old ways.
We desperately need more hulls and more aircraft to replace those that have been decommissioned in recent years. We now have fewer major cutters than at any time since the drug war began in 1973, and many of our ships are unsuitable for modern drug interdiction duties because of their slow speed and outdated technology. Equally important is our urgent need for better sensors to track and find the enemy. Some options:
- Cutters . Employ under Coast Guard command several retiring Oliver Hazard Perry (FFG-7)-class frigates; equip and employ as surveillance ships the two T-AGOS vessels currently sitting idle at the Coast Guard yard; transfer to the Coast Guard several of Special Operations Command's 170-foot Cyclone (PC-1)-class patrol boats.
- Aircraft . Put our recently mothballed HU-25 jets and other aircraft back on the flight line; procure additional stealthy surveillance planes such as the RG-8; employ unmanned aerial vehicles for maritime patrol duty.
- Detection . Acquire state-of-the-art radars for our cutters and aircraft; employ new technologies to make it easier to detect well-hidden drug shipments. IonScan, CINDI, and other high-tech devices are able to detect minute traces of cocaine, but the Coast Guard has too few of these outstanding tools. Every unit engaged in drug interdiction should be outfitted with and trained on state-of-the-art equipment.
A possibility that warrants serious consideration is to transfer all Customs counterdrug aircraft and vessels, and the personnel to man and maintain them, to the Coast Guard. Merging the resources of the two primary seagoing interdiction agencies would yield efficiencies in maintenance, logistics, and operations. At the same time, the Customs Service would be able to focus more tightly on interdiction at the nation's ports of entry.
How to Pay?
The added resources we need to conduct a real war on drugs will cost a barrel of money. With the move toward a balanced federal budget, how will we pay for these expensive cutters, planes, and radars?
In fact, no extra money is needed; instead, we just must spend the people's money more wisely. We can transfer to the front lines tens of millions of dollars each year by shutting down redundant command centers and bureaucratic support staffs and using the savings to fund new operational assets. Without spending an extra penny, you will greatly increase the number of ships and planes on the hunt for smugglers and, at the same time, greatly decrease inefficiency.
The Coast Guard also can provide more resources for interdiction. Over the past four years, our service has engaged in a substantial streamlining effort—cutting personnel and merging district and area offices. We can make further improvements by consolidating small shore commands into larger activities; merging additional districts; and using modern telecommunications to reap efficiencies in command and control. With a dedicated effort, more personnel can be freed for operational duty.
Internal Policies and Procedures
Coast Guard personnel policies unintentionally hinder our acquisition of expertise in counternarcotics operations. Our promotion system discourages officers from specializing in a particular operational venue, and we have no specific enlisted rating for law enforcement, much less for counternarcotics. It is unusual for anyone to spend more than a few years directly involved in the drug war; many of our most aggressive law-enforcement experts are transferred—often against their wishes—away from interdiction duties so they can round out their careers. The result is a continual drain on our pool of experience and a diminution of our ability to fight the enemy.
Here are a few ideas to help the Coast Guard foster and retain greater expertise in maritime drug interdiction:
- Establish a law-enforcement rating for enlisted personnel.
- Create a postgraduate program in law enforcement for officers. The Coast Guard offers dozens of postgraduate opportunities to its officer corps, including general law, but it has no program focusing on law enforcement or criminal justice.
- Assign law-enforcement specialists to each major shore command and operational unit (small boat station, cutter, air station) to provide counterdrug expertise. Extend tour lengths for these specialists at units in high-threat areas, to retain local knowledge.
- Set up an alternative promotion path for officers and enlisted personnel willing to specialize in counternarcotics operations.
Mr. President, we want to help America win the war on drugs. With the proper tools, a streamlined command structure, and supportive internal policies, our interdiction forces can do serious damage to smuggling organizations that move their contraband by sea.
The Coast Guard has led our nation's maritime law-enforcement efforts for more than 200 years, and it is ideally suited to spearhead a consolidated counterdrug organization. Our leadership during the recent Haitian and Cuban mass migrations shows our ability to coordinate the activities of numerous defense and civilian agencies in a professional and effective manner.
The current state of the maritime drug war demands change. We hope you will consider these ideas in the spirit of continuous improvement for one of America's most vital missions.
Officers and Crew, USCGC Persistent