Between March 16 and March 18, Air and Marine Operations (AMO) Guardian Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) aircrews from the National Air Security Operations Centers (NASOC) partnered with federal and international authorities to disrupt four smuggling attempts in the Eastern Pacific Ocean and Western Caribbean Sea, and seized more than three tons of cocaine and nearly two tons of marijuana. Over a three-day period, these operations denied transnational narcotics traffickers approximately $127 million in illicit proceeds.
The following events occurred in support of U.S. Southern Command’s (SOUTHCOM) counternarcotics operations:
- On March 16, a NASOC Guardian UAS crew on patrol in the Eastern Pacific Ocean identified a suspicious go-fast vessel and coordinated interdiction with host nation teams who detained three people and seized 1,700 pounds of marijuana.
- On March 17, a NASOC Guardian UAS crew on patrol in the Eastern Pacific Ocean worked with the U.S. Navy and located a suspicious vessel. The USS Freedom (LCS-1) with embarked U.S. Coast Guard Law Enforcement Detachment (LEDET) vectored to intercept. The LEDET team detained three people and seized 529 pounds of cocaine as well as 1,695 pounds of marijuana.
- On March 18, a NASOC Guardian UAS crew on patrol in the Western Caribbean Sea detected a suspicious vessel and vectored in multiple partner nation vessels for interdiction. Partner nation teams detained four people and seized 5,799 pounds of cocaine.
NASOC Guardian UAS capabilities continue to prove essential to law enforcement in support of SOUTHCOM Operations. On April 1, 2020, SOUTHCOM began what was then known as Enhanced Operations in the Western Hemisphere to increase the disruption of drugs. This increased presence bolstered support to U.S. and partner nation law enforcement by sharing information and intelligence to help expand target packages. Key partners have been involved in over 60% of drug disruptions since April 2020 (up from 50% in 2019).
AMO has three UAS NASOCs located in Grand Forks, North Dakota; Sierra Vista, Arizona; and San Angelo, Texas. These UAS aircraft operate throughout North, Central and South America in defense of the borders of the United States and to prevent attempts to smuggle persons or contraband.
AMO operates the Predator B UAS to increase domain awareness in land and maritime environments. AMO worked with the U.S. Coast Guard to develop a maritime variant of its Predator B UAS called the Guardian. This was done to increase reconnaissance, surveillance, targeting, and acquisition capabilities in maritime operating environments. During Fiscal Year 2020, AMO’s UAS recorded 17,351 confirmed detections of illegal activity. UAS missions also led to the seizure of 6,698 pounds of marijuana.
AMO safeguards our nation by anticipating and confronting security threats through our aviation and maritime law enforcement expertise, innovative capabilities, and partnerships at the border and beyond. With approximately 1,800 federal agents and mission support personnel, 240 aircraft and 300 marine vessels operating throughout the United States, Puerto Rico, and U.S. Virgin Islands, AMO serves as the nation’s experts in airborne and maritime law enforcement.