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P-3 Subhunters Using ASW Gear to Find Narco-Subs?

by John Reed on January 14, 2011

Remember about a couple of years ago when news of drug smugglers using so called “semi-submersibles” was all the rage? Those craft can almost completely submerge themselves to evade interception. Still, the vessels don’t go all the way underwater and can be spotted from ships or aircraft and have been intercepted a number of times.

Since then, the high seas cat-and-mouse game between governments and drug smugglers has become more intense now that the cartels have built actual submarines. It sounds like these vessels are capable of staying underwater long enough to warrant the use of P-3 subhunters to find them.

Calling them “third-generation” Narco-subs, Adm. James Stavridis, supreme NATO commander said during a speech this week in Arlington, Va., that the U.S. and its allies in Latin America are using P-3s to hunt these actual submarines which have communications suites that rival some modern military subs. Now, he didn’t elaborate, but I’m pretty sure Stavridis wasn’t talking about the airborne early warning versions of the P-3 used by the Department of Homeland Security to track drug flights or another variant used by DHS that can track surface ships suspected of smuggling. Yes, the Navy has been using P-3s to help hunt drug smugglers on the surface, but what’s new here is that they may actually be using the planes’ ASW capabilities.

The existence of these actual submarines was first unveiled last summer when police and soldiers discovered a 100-foot long, air-conditioned sub estimated to be able to carry 10 tons of cargo, at a secret narco-shipyard in the jungles of Ecuador. Rumor has it these vessels are designed and built with serious help from the leftist Colombian rebel group known as the FARC.

All this begs the question, even if you can find a submarine from the sky, how do you know 100 percent who it belongs without getting it to surface? How do you get the vessel to surface for inspection during peacetime without serious kinetic action? Do authorities simply track the vessel and wait for it to arrive at its destination before moving into arrest the smugglers?

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