The US Customs and Border Patrol “practically invented maritime surveillance in the Caribbean” according to Defense Media Network. The CBP reports the stunning success of its aerial interdiction program which resulted in 135 interdiction events in fiscal year 2014 alone. As a result, agents seized $9.47 billion worth of cocaine.
This program had its genesis in the Miami Vice days of the 1980s. Back then, cocaine smugglers routinely flew the drug into the country from the Caribbean. The US Customs Service outfitted P-3 Orion planes with Airborne Early Warning Systems (AEW) and took to the sky to find these smugglers and shut down their routes. This program effectively stopped the airborne transport of cocaine from the Caribbean into the US.
With the initial success of the P3 program, the US joined with 14 other countries to create Operation Martillo. This program monitors traffic in the Caribbean and along Central America’s Pacific Coast using a modified AEW system. These modifications enable the planes to detect smaller targets such as panga boats and aircraft.
In two weeks alone in 2015, border patrol agents working as part of Operation Martillo disrupted the smuggling of more than $824 million worth of drugs in the western Caribbean and eastern Pacific Ocean. Between May 28 and June 10, law enforcement partners seized 9,641 pounds of cocaine and 4,650 pounds of marijuana. Arrests included 17 people of multiple nationalities.
With P-3s based in Jacksonville, Florida and Corpus Christi, Texas, border patrol agents are able to detect, monitor, and disrupt smugglers over an area twice the size of the continental US. Maritime agents flew more than 5,900 hours in fiscal year 2014 and are making major inroads in reducing the flow of drugs into the US.