Tag Archives: Counter-Drug

Experimenting With Multinational Mothership Ops

The following was reported by the German navy blog Marine Forum:

“8 January, PIRACY– Anti-Piracy Forces: Sweden is preparing for another mission (M-04) in support of EU operation “Atalanta”, this time working jointly with the Netherlands navy … COMBAT BOAT 90 fast interceptor craft, helicopters and 70 personnel to embark on Netherlands Navy dock landing ship JOHAN DE WITT.”

As you may recall, I have advocated using WPCs supported by a mother ship to supplement the larger cutters for distant drug interdiction operations.

The U.S. Coast Guard has has done cooperative counter drug operations with the Dutch Navy in the past. Early last year, the Netherlands OPV Zeeland embarked both a CG LEDET and a CG helo det.

Perhaps we could run a test using the Johan de Witt or her sister ship Rotterdam to try out the mothership concept. Their crew size is similar to that of the National Security Cutters (less than that of the Hamilton class), but they have berthing for hundreds more. They have aviation facilities for up to six helicopters. They can handle boats from both davits and a well deck. They have excellent Command and Control facilities.

“The ships have a complete Class II hospital, including an operating theater and intensive care facilities. A surgical team can be stationed on board.” 

That could make them welcome in a lot of ports.

L 801 Johan de Witt Uploaded by Oxyman
L 801 Johan de Witt Uploaded by Oxyman

Would the Dutch be interested? The Dutch Navy has already demonstrated its commitment to counter-drug trafficking. They have used these ships several times for counter-piracy. Counter-drug operations are not that much different, and piracy seems to be in decline. When it was being finished, there were reports that the Dutch wanted to sell the Johan de Witt. Operating off Latin America might be seen as an opportunity to demonstrate both this class and the Netherlands’ ship building expertise in an international market.

What might the experimental effort include? In addition to the mothership, perhaps three MH-65s, add a mix of Webber class WPCs, WPBs, Response Boat Mediums (RB-M), and Navy Riverine Command Boats (the U.S. Navy version of the Combatboat 90).

In addition to its counter-drug objectives, the deployment might be seen as a partnership station effort, training as well as working with the locals, and if there should be a natural disaster while they are in the area, it would be a ready-made Coast Guard response.


This post can be found in its original form on Chuck Hill’s Coast Guard Blog

A Post-Chavez Maritime Order

U.S. and Venezuelan Sailors work together during counter-drug operations in 2009.
U.S. and Venezuelan Sailors work together during counter-drug operations in 2009.

In the next few days there will undoubtedly be a glut of post-mortems on the Chávez era and predictions for the future (not least because much of Washington’s “blogging class” is home for a snowstorm)1. Much of it will be by experts on the region or those armed with interesting facts. I’m not aiming to compete or replicate their work; what I want to look at is the implications for defense cooperation, specifically naval and maritime matters.

Danse Macabre Venezuelan
America’s tumultuous relationship with Venezuela under Chávez is well documented – from coups to theatrical UN speeches to declaiming Halloween’s frights as acts of “imperialist terror” – but it wasn’t always this way. Prior to Chávez’s inauguration in 1999, the U.S. enjoyed many fruitful defense ties with Venezuela including intelligence-sharing, counter-narcotics, military training, and defense exports.

Most of these ties continued during Chávez’s first term in office, although an initial indication of Chávez’s wariness of the American military may have arisen during floods and mudslides in December 1999-January 2000. After allowing in roughly 100 U.S. troops, he cancelled plans for additional U.S. military construction corps members to assist in the recovery efforts.

On the other hand, as late as 2002 Chávez still enjoyed interacting with the crews of visiting naval vessels, as this post by Chris Cavas, detailing a port call by the USS Yorktown (CG 48), and a declassified U.S. State Dept. Memo highlight. However, a mere 5 weeks later, the April 2002 coup would irreparably alter relations.

The U.S. military came under particular criticism from Chávez, both for allegedly – and without proof – directly aiding the coup attempt and subsequent espionage and coup-plotting efforts. Venezuela expelled a string of military attachés on these grounds, a tradition continuing to this day (see below). Chávez also followed up his words by severing most of the existing military ties between 2003-2005, including ending training-support missions and participation in the annual UNITAS naval exercise. It may have been his calculation that there was greater value in showcasing an external “imperialist” threat to shore up support, in the tradition of Vladimir Putin, than to maintain ties with the U.S. But whatever the reason, military relations after the coup were quickly curtailed.

In 2006, due to a lack of cooperation in anti-terrorism efforts, the U.S. followed suit by sanctioning arms exports to Venezuela. Despite these impediments, informal ties between the two militaries continued as the Venezuelan military backers of Chávez have reputedly been of a more pragmatic strain than their leftist civilian government counterparts.

One area of considerable focus has been counter-drug (CD) efforts. Despite the appearance of Chávez’s personal enmity, the U.S. Navy and Coast Guard have still managed in recent years to work with their counterparts, although this has reportedly been on a case-by-case rather than formalized basis. According to the GAO:

DOD allotted about $3 million for counternarcotics and related security assistance in Venezuela in fiscal years 2006 through 2011. Through 2009, this assistance was used in part to provide tactically actionable intelligence to both US and select Venezuelan law enforcement agencies.

CD efforts will continue to loom large as avenues for cooperation and potential sticking points if the next election returns a “Bolivarian” government. The Wall Street Journal reported this January that attempts to improve ties between the U.S. and Venezuela are hampered by

…allegations of high-level involvement by the Chávez government in drug trafficking. The U.S. has put seven top current and former Venezuelan officials on a Treasury blacklist for their alleged drug and arms dealing links to Colombian guerrillas based in Venezuela. Those links were exposed in 2008 after the Colombian military captured computers used by a guerrilla leader killed on a cross border raid in Ecuador.


Among the officials put on the Treasury list are Gen. Henry Rangel Silva, the former minister of defense who was recently elected governor of the state of Trujillo. Mr. Rangel Silva and the others say they are innocent.

Venezuela’s immediate future looks to be tumultuous and relations could in fact worsen. Vice President Nicholás Maduro moved to expel two American diplomats and claimed that Chávez had been poisoned with cancer by Venezuela’s “historical enemies.” This may have been mere posturing to aid power-consolidation for the immediate transition and new the elections that are constitutionally required to be held in 30 days – but it is a sign that things are far from certain to improve.

Despite today’s focus on Chávez’s death, however, the more meaningful impact on U.S.-Venezuelan naval and maritime efforts may have come from last week’s enactment of Sequestration. As Sam Lagrone describes, the forced budget cuts have dealt a blow to Operation Martillo’s CD efforts, suspending deployments to SOUTHCOM of U.S. Navy frigates USS Rentz (FFG-46) and USS Thach (FFG-43). Just as an opening may occur for increased cooperation in the next few months or years, the U.S. may not be able to take full advantage of it.

LT Scott Cheney-Peters is a surface warfare officer in the U.S. Navy Reserve and the former editor of Surface Warfare magazine. He is the founding director of the Center for International Maritime Security and holds a master’s degree in National Security and Strategic Studies from the U.S. Naval War College.

The opinions and views expressed in this post are his alone and are presented in his personal capacity. They do not necessarily represent the views of U.S. Department of Defense or the U.S. Navy. 

La Frigata USS Nicholas


U.S. officials offload drugs from USS Nicholas in July.

With the constant stream of news about maritime disputes in the Asia-Pacific, the threats of piracy, and bluster of the Iranians, it can be easy to forget about the regular naval drama in the Western hemisphere. The U.S. Navy’s contributions to drug interdiction efforts don’t get a as much press, but they are a major focus of naval operations up and down the Atlantic and Pacific coasts, and in the waters of the Caribbean. Yesterday Spanish-language station Univision helped shed light on the mission and its impact thanks access it was given to USS Nicholas (FFG 47).


This is the report from Univision and the English-version clip:

It’s estimated that over 80 percent of the cocaine entering the United States is transported during part of its journey by sea. For that reason, the U.S. Coast Guard has moved the battlefield in the fight against drug trafficking to the oceans.


Univision’s Ricardo Arambarri got exclusive access on board the USS Nicholas during Operation Martillo, a 175-day-long mission patrolling the Caribbean Sea and the Atlantic and Pacific coastal waters of South and Central America.


Arambarri and cameraman Herman Ulloa were on board for 10 days and witnessed the interception of a speed boat loaded with drugs. Operation Martillo returned to land on July 17th with four tons of cocaine and marihuana seized during the mission, with an estimated wholesale value of $93 million.”

This is some great footage, especially if you haven’t spent much time on a surface ship. It again highlights the benefits that mostly untrammeled access can achieve – namely helping generate an understanding of what it is the Navy does in the minds of the American (and international) public. Kudos to the PAOs and whoever else made the decision to give them the access.

According to WAVY 10, “Nicholas‘ crew seized a total of 16,000 pounds of cocaine and 500 pounds of marijuana during the deployment, worth more than $515 million…the crew also captured 14 suspected drug smugglers.”

Univision also provided some entertaining behind-the-scenes footage of the filming process:


This is also a reminder of how well the sea services can work together with practice. In addition to the Nicholas, a maritime patrol aircraft (MPA), an embarked SH-60B Seahawk helicopter, and a Law Enforcement Detachment (LEDET) of the U.S. Coast Guard along for the ride all make an appearance. It is sad, however, to see during the gun shoot and SCAT-team fire (yes, the military does love its acronyms, as the reporter kindly points out) that we still can no better than boxes for targets. They must have run through all their killer red tomatoes. But at least they have some non-combat expenditure allocation (NCEA) ammunition to shoot off, and at least the boxes look like they’re floating. While I’m all for going the inexpensive route, it was hard to tell how well a gunner was at hitting a target when the plywood from pallets we were using slipped below the waves after only a few rounds.


Another thing the videos reinforce is that speed is a big factor in ultimately catching the drug runners. But it’s the speed of the airborne assets that matter, not the surface vessel.


If you’re proficient with your Spanish, you can also check out the original Spanish-language production. As Univision notes, “Check out Navy officers speaking Spanish!


LT Scott Cheney-Peters is a surface warfare officer in the U.S. Navy Reserve and the former editor of Surface Warfare magazine. He is the founding director of the Center for International Maritime Security and holds a master’s degree in National Security and Strategic Studies from the U.S. Naval War College.

The opinions and views expressed in this post are his alone and are presented in his personal capacity. They do not necessarily represent the views of U.S. Department of Defense or the U.S. Navy.