According to a Defense News article, the military command covering the Southern Hemisphere has the resources to intercept only a quarter of known narcotics shipments to the U.S., its commander recently said. In February 2018 the U.S. Southern Command’s Chief, Admiral Kurt Tidd, told the Senate Armed Services Committee that they could do more with littoral combat ships (LCS) and maritime patrol aircraft.

The US Navy’s defines a littoral combat ship (LCS) as a new family of surface ships. The LCS is a fast, highly manoeuvrable, networked surface combat ship, which is a specialised variant of the family of US future surface combat ships known as DD(X). LCS is designed to satisfy the urgent requirement for shallow draft vessels to operate in the littoral (coastal waters) to counter growing potential ‘asymmetric’ threats of coastal mines, drug trafficking, quiet diesel submarines with the potential to carry explosives and terrorists on small, fast, armed boats.

There have been partnerships with Latin America to bend the tide of drug trafficking, and situational awareness to the U.S., Admiral Tidd related. Maine independent Sen. Angus King vented frustration with their 25 percent ability. “Four people have died in the last hour, and you’re giving me the same figures that Gen. Kelly gave us three or four years ago,” King said. Adding more pressure, he asked if Admiral Tidd could commit to moving this need to the highest priority level. According to the Admiral, the biggest problem is the instability of the budget. This is after Trump declared in late 2017 that the opioid epidemic was the worst drug crisis in American history.

The prevailing thought is more surveillance assets need to be devoted to the drug trafficking problem. Tidd said that opioids require new thinking and better collaboration. Speaking to Senator Jeanne Shaheen, whose state, New Hampshire, is a leader in opioid-related deaths, he conveyed he’s not prepared to say they have an answer to the problem, but they recognize its scope, its seriousness and the work remaining to be done.

When asked what capabilities would close the gap, Tidd named the LCS, packaged with rotary-wing aircraft and interceptor boats, and coupled with maritime patrol aircraft. Much reliance today is on the the Coast Guards medium-endurance cutters, which are not always available and have been termed aging workhorses.

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