U.S. Navy Deploys an LCS on Anti-Narcotics Mission

USS Detroit gets under way, October 31 (USN)

Published Nov 4, 2019 10:19 PM by The Maritime Executive

The Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) USS Detroit has deployed for operations off the coast of Central America, fulfilling U.S. Southern Command's longstanding wish to use the LCS for anti-smuggling efforts. U.S. Coast Guard cutters intercept billions of dollars' worth of cocaine in the region every year, but far more gets through: task force commanders have testified that on average, about three smuggling boats out of every four detected manage to escape because of a shortage of pursuit assets. 

Though lightly armed and armored, the Freedom-class littoral combat ships have a shallow draft and a high top speed, qualifications that work in their favor for counter-narcotics operations along the Central American coast. 

“We hope Detroit will build relationships with that region and show that LCS is a capable warfighting platform that is ready to safeguard access to international waterways and demonstrate operating capabilities,” said Capt. Cory Applebee, commander of Surface Warfare Division Two One.

Detroit deploys with a crew of more than 90 sailors, including the personnel required for her surface warfare mission package. She carries a U.S. Coast Guard law enforcement detachment for boardings and an aviation detachment with one MH-60S Seahawk helicopter and two MQ-8B Fire Scout unmanned helicopters. 

The Navy says that in addition to her operational tasking, Detroit's deployment will be used to demonstrate the LCS' capabilities and to evaluate the service's modified crew rotation and maintenance plans. In 2016, in response to a series of serious mechanical casualties, the Navy overhauled the LCS program and changed manning arrangements to a simplified Gold crew / Blue crew rotation.

In February 2018, U.S. SOUTHCOM commander Adm. Kurt W. Tidd told the Senate Armed Services Committee that the LCS would be of great value for operations in his region. "LCS capabilities match our mission requirements perfectly, and we are working closely with the Navy to try and field them in our region. My view is that the sooner we can deploy these ships in theater, the greater the impact we can have on interdicting the flow of illicit drugs into our country," Adm. Tidd said.