U.S. Southern Command requires additional intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) assets and maritime platforms to more effectively perform counter-narcotics missions, the command’s leader said Feb. 7.
The command is “deficient” in its current ISR capabilities, although it works to mitigate those gaps with “different sources of intelligence,” SOUTHCOM Commander Adm. Craig Faller said Thursday during a Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) hearing. The committee sought testimony from Fuller and U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) Commander Marine Gen. Thomas Waldhauser in anticipation of the fiscal year 2020 defense budget request and the future years defense program.
“Record cocaine is going to mean record drug flows, and we’ve got to stop it along the way,” Faller said. Along with more ISR assets, the command could be more effective with maritime patrol aircraft and helicopters, along with new ships such as the Navy’s Littoral Combat Ship (LCS).
“I know our Navy needs a bigger Navy; we need some of that,” he said, noting that LCS is “mission-fit” for humanitarian assistance and training partner nations, as well as drug interdiction.
SOUTHCOM is working with partner nations in the area of responsibility to help fill in the ISR gaps for drug interdiction, Faller said. Countries such as Colombia, El Salvador and Guatemala have made progress in boosting their own capabilities “but we need others to step up,” he added. The command has seen record interdiction over the past two years, but it remains insufficient, he noted. “We’re nudging but we’re not moving the needle enough.”
He credited the Coast Guard for boosting their presence in the region. “They have stepped up in a big way from five to eight cutters over the holiday.”
Waldhauser agreed that USAFRICOM could also use more ISR capabilities to help counter violent extremism, along with medical evacuation assets.
Over a three-year period, the command has worked to boost the Nigerian military’s intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities, Waldhauser said. The investment has increased since an October 2017 ambush in the African country led to the deaths of four U.S. soldiers, with AFRICOM partnering with its French counterparts in the Sahel region to share information resources.
“Over the last year our relationship with the French, to include intelligence sharing, has really gone to as good as I’ve seen it,” Waldhauser said. The data-sharing “has really added to our ability to understand the situation there over the last year,” and is “satisfactory and adequate” for U.S. servicemembers to assist the Nigerian forces, he said.
The two commanders kept from providing too many details about needed capabilities, despite multiple committee members requesting specific platform requirements, including SASC Chairman Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) and Sens. Angus King (I-Maine), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Doug Jones (D-Ala.) and Mike Rounds (R-S.D.). The FY ’20 Presidential Budget request is currently expected to be released March 12.