SOUTHCOM Battles Drug Cartel Submarine Armada

Latin American drug cartels continue to launch scores of semi-submersible, cocaine hauling submarines northward from jungle hideouts to feed insatiable U.S. drug markets. The fiberglass vessels, typically 60 to 70 feet in length and able to haul 10 tons of cocaine, are assembled in remote workshops, hidden deep in coastal mangrove swamps and even far inland in Colombia’s mountainous jungle. Powered by diesel motors, the subs travel by night and lay low during the day, almost wake-less, they are incredibly difficult to spot from the air.

How hard? During a recent exercise, a captured semi-submersible was towed behind a ship and planes and helicopters flew over to try and spot it from the air, but could not, said Air Force Gen. Douglas Fraser, chief of Southern Command, speaking to defense reporters yesterday. The vessels are not true submarines; they’re built with a very low profile to the water, painted in various shades of blue to blend into the ocean, but with favorable currents they can travel up to 5,000 miles.

Fraser’s command has had success capturing the semi-submersibles. Drug cartels launched more of the cocainecows in 2008, when SOUTHCOM seized 76; last year 52 subs were either detected or disrupted. “That’s a one year data point, I don’t know whether that means the trend has fallen off or they’ve changed their tactics.” Most sub seizures came about through informant’s tips. They key is finding the jungle hideouts where the subs are built, because once underway, well, there’s a lot of ocean to scour. SOUTHCOM nets about 25 percent of the total drugs shipped north, Fraser said.

More and better aerial surveillance and reconnaissance is SOUTHCOM’s biggest need, he said, an aerial asset that can provide broad area maritime surveillance; sensors that could peer into jungle foliage would also be nice. “In the mangrove swamps in western Colombia you can be ten feet away from where somebody’s building a semi-submersible and never see it.”

— Greg

  • Taylor

    One way of detecting the subs might be to use sonar and radar together. If there is an engine sound coming from a location but no radar reflection or no visible sighting, it might be a cocainecow sub.

  • Chaos0xomega

    Yeah. I dont see the U.S. having trouble detecting these things. I mean, if we can detect soviet subs out in the middle of the atlantic, we shouldn’t have much issue detecting these things (unless they are going through the littorals). We just need to put a really good subaquatic detection net in place.


    If these things are diesel powered shouldn’t they emit heat? They only travel at night time so would it be possible to detect them on IR?

  • nraddin

    I don’t see why we bother, it doesn’t reduce the flow of drugs, doesn’t increase the price, so all we are doing is spending huge amounts of money. I say stop all Drug related law enforcement efforts in the US, watch as the price drops through the floor and all the drug cartels fall apart for lack of funding.

    Now we have those hundreds of billions of dollars to spend on something else

  • stephen russell

    Recall the WW2 DDs & DEs with active sonar & use IR & sink these subs.
    Give bounties to skippers for sinking most subs.
    ID assembly sites via Predator flights & satellite shots.
    But sink those subs AT Sea.
    NO Qtr given

  • jsallison

    And there’s your problem. Publish pics of them blowing up with lots of sturm und drang and I ‘spect we’ll start seeing less of them. Obviously the powers that be don’t have the stones to do what’s necessary, just like with the thrice-damnable pirates.

  • am with jsallison on this one. If you start blowing them up and with that, the crews, it will become increasingly difficult to find crews. Same strategy works with pirates.

    So now billions in shipping around the horn of Africa has been hijacked with almost no consequences for the pirates. If something ever made no sense at all, it is the policies of the Western nations in this regard.

    The same solution that prevailed for the past 400 years still applies. A swift, fair trial and a good hanging.

  • txkboy

    Low priority on the political radar. That’s why there’s not more manpower and equipment going to aid SOUTHCOM. 25% is dismal at best. It’s not worth putting up a drone to fly the loop. Kinda the way it works on land. From the druglords point of view, I’ll give you 25% and get the other 75% past you a couple of miles away.

    • Taxessuck

      especially since the true figure is much closer to 2.5%

  • Marshall Tall Eagle

    Herre is way to stop all drugs, first arrest all drug dealers big and small. Second arrest all the buyers. When a person goes to drug rehab and has to go more then three times, then put them in prison for 10 years.
    Everytime a person dies from a drug over dose, arrest all drug dealers within a 10 miles area of the death. We need to start being hard on this whole bussiness

    • KKK

      What good will it do to have all but a handfull of people left in each city? 75% of the population would be in prison.

    • eric m

      beyond the just obvious obsurdity of your post , you wanna foot the tax dollars to pay for the incarciration of 70% of the population of the u.s? we could make the country into one big prison . whatever happpened to the idea of this being a free country , for individuals to make there own decisions regarding there life??

  • Kayaker

    If Narco-Terrorists can smuggle coke into the country using these low profile subs, Al-Queada can be snuck in as well. The Navy should have an ROE to destroy these craft on sight. Take their captured crew and prosecute them in a similar place like GITMO as well. That will put a dent in the Cartels purse strings.

  • HopesHeKnows

    INVADE CUBA! not really that wouldnt do a thing. I dont see why the U.S. makes such a big deal over air security, when security at sea cn be just as important. drug dealers, Al-Queada, terrorist, anybody determined enough will find a way to accomplish their goals. the only way to stop them is to apply stricter rules( as with airtravel in the US) and hit the problem at the source.

  • sail4evr

    legalize drugs. so somebody gets strung out on drugs and we have to pay for their healthcare. still cheaper than the drug interdiction program

  • Iker

    Come on KIDS!!!! All diesel engines reverberate on its strokes making them visible to subs radar!!!! Hahahahahaaa! The only subs that can pass into US must be man-muscle powered. But this is nothing! This subs are for preliminary SCS into border countries which, in turns have no sophisticated or fully operative submarines! Since the subs are fiberglass. it is easy to spot by an US sub Los Angeles Class which currently are 32 on the atlantic ocean.

  • Festus 1961

    Sounds like a good training exercise for new Sub and Aircraft crews. Maybe the new female Submarine officers can shoot a few. Sink them, photograph the sinking and publicize the death and destruction. Clean up whatever drugs float out of the sub. Survivors? Let them swim for awhile and then put them in Prison. Make drug smuggling, sales, distribution and use too deadly to be fun and profitable.

  • Jonathan

    I think that the US Military has been lying to us for a long time about their capabilities.

    Which serves no purpose.

    If 20 tons of drugs can be smuggled in on a submarine, 20 tons of other illegal cargo can be brought in. With Iran, North Korea, China, Russia all less then honorable, I think we should be a little worried. A preemptive nuclear strike from Kim Jung on our ports or naval bases followed up by similiar attacks in other regions would be something I could imagine as being a possibility.

    You dont need ballistic missiles to attack us when our border security is so amateur.

    And its not just an atomic threat, there could be explosives being brought in, chemical weapons, poisons to be used on our food and water supplies, rockets or mortars that be used to attack high value targets. These submarines could be planting mines or sensors close to our shores that could track our Navy vessels.

    I am less then impressed with the US Military. I think we are nowhere near where we should be considering the amount of knowledge and money we have at our disposal.

    We are innefficient with our resources.

    • Longbow 6

      DUDE,,,stop giving the buggers ideas willya!

  • William L. Sasman

    Any of these subs seen should be sunk. Let the navy loss on them. If they can find a russian sub under the north pole they should beable to find these. Another thing the people that make these should be under watch to see where they go. The big trouble in this world is that the drug dealers, terror people can come up with all the weapons and subs and the dealers and makers sit back with full pockets.

  • TCC

    I know, this thread is dead, but I’d like to say my piece.

    Harder responses to these craft are not the answer. Drug smugglers use shipping containers too. Should we blow up each one we see?

    Doesn’t make much sense.

    And let’s not forget the argument of freedom. Other citizens have a right to build and sail these craft for recreational purposes. It takes just one dead engineering student to bring a whole firestorm against the navy.

    Furthermore, sonar contacts are scrubbed using computers. Not only that, these computers hunt in a very narrow range. Even using human ears, simply detecting the low noise of a diesel engine isn’t enough to scream “drug smuggler!” These signatures could scream “fisherman,” or “recreational boater.”

    Some people watch too much military channel.

  • anthony

    Let them float on.We let it grow in Afgan were we are having a so called drug war,walking through the weed jungles and opium fields??doesnt make sense.It makes sense that they use a few plants to lock up people ?And all the addicts in afganHave seen the special on the netwerk about our troops getting mixed up in this drug invested war,particurly the”GANG”.The stuff is so bad they let it grow???doesnt make any sense..

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