KEY WEST, Fla. - Skimming just below the surface, they are extremely difficult to detect from surveillance aircraft or patrol boats. Their sleek design, up to 80 feet in length, can secretly carry several tons of cargo thousands of miles.
These "semi-submersibles," which exhibit some of the same characteristics as military submarines, mark a significant advancement in the ability of drug smugglers to slip past coastal defenses.
So far this year, the Coast Guard says it has encountered at least 27 such vessels headed toward the southern and western United States, more than in the previous six years combined, while far more are believed to have gone undetected, according to US military and law enforcement officials.
The growing number and increased sophistication of the vessels, officially designated "self-propelled semi-submersibles," has set off alarms at the highest levels of the US military and the federal Department of Homeland Security. Counterterrorism officials fear that what drug runners now use to deliver cocaine, terrorists could one day use to sneak personnel or massive weapons into the United States.
The solution? Well, we in the Silent Service have known for a long time that the best anti-submarine weapon is another submarine. I doubt your average "expeditionary shipyard" is going to be able to produce the sort of sound-silencing gear that costs an arm and a leg for military shipbuilders; picking up and tracking a semi-submersible would be a (relatively) straightforward task for a decent sub's crew. Not only that, but they could also track the drug runners to their resupply ships and relay the track to the Coast Guard. Catch the bad guys in the act, and presto!
Of course, given how overbooked the sub force is currently, we'd have to actually spend some serious money building new hulls to support this mission (on top of all the other things the poor slobs still on active duty are trying to cover). And, since the Connecticut Congressional delegation basically had to force a second Virginia class boat in 2010 down the Navy's throat, I kind of doubt the Bush Administration really cares about that whole "keep the terrorists out" rhetoric. (At least, not unless the nativist whackjobs get the idea that hordes of brown people are using subs to steal Ammurican jobs.)