Home » Aviation » SOUTHCOM Tidd Wants More Surveillance, Coast Guard Cutters to Stem Illegal Trafficking

SOUTHCOM Tidd Wants More Surveillance, Coast Guard Cutters to Stem Illegal Trafficking

U.S. Navy Adm. Kurt W. Tidd, commander of U.S. Southern Command, speaks with service members on Nov. 22, 2017. US Army Photo

The Southern Command’s top officer told the Senate Armed Services Committee he is receiving only a fraction of the intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance resources he needs to stem the flow of illegal rugs, people and money into the United States.

Adm. Kurt Tidd, testifying Thursday, added that lack of ISR translates into interdicting only 25 percent of the known movement of narcotics.

“We’re not talking about Brigade Combat Teams and aircraft carriers” to better carry out the command’s mission over a region that stretches from Central America to the tip of South America. He said it means special operations teams working with security forces on land and the presence of Coast Guard Medium Endurance Cutters on the seas.

Several times during the hearing, Tidd stressed the need for re-capitalizing that part of the Coast Guard’s fleet. “The cop on the beat is the Medium Endurance Cutter.” He added a number of these vessels were laid down in the 1960s.

As the hearing was nearing its end, he added, the Littoral Combat ship would work well in the interdiction mission with its helicopter and boats in combination with maritime patrol aircraft.

As for adding unmanned aerial systems to increase ISR capabilities in the region, Kidd acknowledged, “There are some challenges to employing them,” but did not identify what the challenges were. The Coast Guard operates law enforcement duties through agreements with individual nations, and UAS operations may not be covered in existing pacts.

The crew of the Coast Guard Cutter Bear, a 270 foot, medium endurance cutter, arrives in San Juan, Puerto Rico, to deliver supplies, Oct. 9, 2017. The supplies included donations collected by Customs and Border Patrol members. (U.S. Coast Guard photo)

The crew of the Coast Guard Cutter Bear, a 270 foot, medium endurance cutter, arrives in San Juan, Puerto Rico, to deliver supplies, Oct. 9, 2017. US Coast Guard Photo

“We have pretty good situational awareness” of illegal trafficking on the “known tracks” used by criminal networks, but that is a limited view, Tidd said. He told the committee that trafficking in opioids differs from routes used to move marijuana and cocaine into the United States. “We’ve got to do business differently.” In that regard, he said the command hosted a conference last week in Miami to work out details on how to address the epidemic that involved the Defense, Homeland Security, Justice, Treasury and State Departments.

In looking at one drug’s trafficking route, rather than cocaine coming largely from Colombia, the Drug Enforcement Agency lists China as a manufacturer of finished and precursors for fentanyl and China and Mexico as prime sources for cross-border shipping.

“There is no single silver bullet,” he said in answer to a question about stopping every truck from Mexico entering the United States to search for opioids and other drugs.

Looking specifically at the security challenges in Venezuela where he said a humanitarian crisis is in progress. Tidd said the government of President Nicolas Maduro is “significant concern” to its neighbors. An estimated 500,000 Venezuelans have fled the country as food scarcity increases and medical care deteriorates straining Colombia, Brazil and the island nations closest to it to meet those needs.

The impact on Colombia, which has received the largest number of refugees, goes beyond strains on its health care system and housing. He said Bogota fears refugees with dual citizenship could skew its coming elections by voting there. Colombia’s government recently reached a peace agreement with leftist guerrillas ending a 50-year civil war that claimed hundreds of thousands of lives.

What is also “a matter of concern” to the command is “we see significant presence of Cuban advisers to [the Venezuelan] security force.” This is coupled with continuing political and economic interest in Caracas from Russia and China to keep Maduro in power.

More than 47,000 pounds of cocaine worth over $721 million seized in 23 different drug operations in the Eastern Pacific by U.S Coast Guard and Royal Canadian Navy forces was turned over to federal agents in San Diego, Jan. 25, 2018. US Coast Guard Photo

Tidd said he is working military-to-military connections in the region to disprove Moscow’s and Beijing’s claim that “we are disengaging from the Americas.” He told the committee that China, as it has in Africa, is making large investments in an effort to extend its influence and show the United States’ indifference.

“Anything that we can do to show we are reliable is important,” he said.

Tidd also expressed support for a number of programs funded by the State Department but executed by the Department of Defense, such as the International Military Education and Training initiative.

“It is a small pie to begin with,” he said referring to the State and Defense Department budgets for these programs. “The challenge is to make our small piece of the pie go as far as possible.”

As it has been investing economically, China also has recently been inviting military officers from Central and South America to study there as another way of making its presence felt in the area.

“Absolutely priceless” was the way he described the international military training program’s value to the United States.

The State Department is facing a 30 percent cut in its Fiscal year 2019 budget request, several senators of both parties noted during the hearing.

  • rex

    Admiral Tidd and the rest of SouthCom should come to the realization that they are never going to win the drug war, when your own country craves drugs and very little is being done at home to get people off opioids, or stop the demand for drugs here in this country.

    Secondly, the U.S. blew it’s chances, when it meddled into Venezuela’s politics over oil in the 1990’s. That caused the Venezuelans to vote for Hugo Chávez and his socialist government by a landslide in 1998 Then Venezuela began to reassert sovereignty over its oil reserves. The U.S. did not like that. Since that did not work, the Bush administration launched an attempted coup in 2002. That failed too. Then the U.S.tried to get the OAS to isolate Venezuela in 2005. That did not work either, and the failure of the resolution was seen as politically significant, expressing Latin American support for Chávez and disapproval of U.S. meddling. Since that time, the U.S. placed lots of economic sanctions on Venezuela, but all that did was to harden the Venezuelan stance against the U.S.,. Now, Venezuela has stopped trading in Petrodollars, and is now accepting Chinese Yuans and Cryptocurrency backed by Oil. That allows it to circumvent U.S. sanctions. Again, the U.S. does not like that either, because it does threaten the dollar importance in circulation. So now, there is talk about U.S. military intervention in Venezuela within the Trump administration, but with so many enemies America has now, like with North Korea, China, Russia, and many within the OAS, America is not in the position to take on all of these crisis and something has got to give. Most likely, the U.S. will have to disengage from South America. Some will say it supports the idea of United States’ indifference in the region, as mentioned above. But in a broader sense, others will say, its great to see the end of U.S. meddling, and failed American policies in South America. So, in the coming years ahead, there will probably be no more roles for Southcom to play anyway, as the U.S. has earned itself a bad reputation in South America and is simply not welcomed there, for Southcom to be of any significant importance..

    • DaSaint

      You started out somewhat factually, then degraded into an emotional rant. Pity.

      • Curtis Conway

        Perhaps we should return to the Monroe Doctrine, and bring back NAS Roosevelt Roads.

        • DaSaint

          Personally, I have no issue with either the Monroe Doctrine and the Roosevelt corollary. Hope I spelled that right.

    • incredulous1

      it’s just the same old nature abhors a vacuum syndrome. We cannot neglect our backyard, but China and Russia have to be priorities. Now it looks like we are closer to killing two birds with one stone. Make that three birds.

  • D. Jones

    China can quickly build better boats for their South American clients than the LCS.

    Use National Security Cutters or domestically-built variants of foreign frigates and once and for all junk the LCS boondoggle.

    Ships get built which keeps the workflow constant for builders (except Austal, oh well) and congress gets some of their usual pork.

    Reassign all LCS program cheerleaders to Antarctica or Detroit.

  • DaSaint

    China has made significant inroads for very little money in the Caribbean. While we focused on the Middle East and South Asia for years, we neglected our own backyard. China has paid for infrastructure improvements in many of the 15 nations in Caricom, and convinced many of them to no longer recognize Taiwan. After all 15 votes in the UN General Assembly counts for something. Each vote counts.

    Fortunately we’ve started to refocus there, with agreements from the last administration leading to infrastructure investments pertaining to energy and LNG exports, as that is a prime marketplace for our providers in the Gulf Coast.

    Some relatively minor additional investments in their militaries, particularly Coast Guards and internal security forces would make the most sense, just as Australia is doing with their Pacific Patrol Boat project, where there are building 21 patrol craft for neighboring countries.

  • Bubblehead

    The USCG absolutely needs more NSC cutters. Its a no brainer. And really not an option.

    • incredulous1

      what we really need is to be smarter about size and capability and the mix to maintain and ISR net and interdiction force.

  • Ed L

    Decades ago when I was in the Virgin Islands sailing. I met a couple who were briefly held by the coast guard. It seems the CG got the wrong sailboat and the wife wack a couple of coasties who were boarding their boat in the middle of the night. After a brief exchange and ice applied the coast guard left. I think using the LCS’s in multiple choke points with a coast guard detachment on board would help the drug fight. Forcing the drug lords to ship during bad weather. Plus with a stricter policy against hard drugs at home. Legalize medicinal marijuana would put a crimp in the street sales. Plus the tax collected

    • incredulous1

      it seems they got what they wanted and MJ is already legalizing with no special tax. We should have required inspection stamps like cigarettes with that type of tax for the recreational types.

  • the_artist_formerly_known_as_m

    “As the hearing was nearing its end, he added, the Littoral Combat ship would work well in the interdiction mission…”

    Agreed. Southern Command is about the only theater that LCS makes sense. The threats are low and there are plenty of friendly bases.

    • Curtis Conway

      AND lots of shallow water and littoral ports for them to visit.

  • incredulous1

    asymmetry seems to be the concept here that is costing so much. Although an LCS is better than a destroyer or frigate, we still beat a gnat with a sledge hammer. MECs are better yet, but still we don’t have enough of them to interdict these routes and it would be silly to build that many. In fact something more specialized that is designed for high endurance and ISR but on a smaller more affordable scale that can patrol for longer period on end than a light cutter. Think something between a WPD and a Sentinel class updated [new class] to operate with a much smaller crew than MEC or LCS, but with UAV capability and over the horizon surveillance.