Wed | Sep 19, 2018

Basil Jarrett | Confronting smugglers at sea

Published:Wednesday | February 8, 2017 | 12:00 AM

New chief of defence staff, Major General Rocky Meade, recently became the 11th head of the Jamaica Defence Force (JDF). He takes over at a time when national security is front and centre of Jamaica's priorities, and the force is fully stretched, confronting challenges such as national and transnational crime, illicit trafficking, climate change, natural disasters, cybersecurity and health pandemics.

While these threats are all clear and present, the one that stands out starkest is the country's high national crime rates, especially of murder. Targeted operations, increased patrolling, improved intelligence gathering, new legislation and social intervention and youth engagement initiatives are some of the most important strategic tools in the fight against crime.

Equally important, however, is the use of improved technological assets to assist the security forces and law-enforcement agencies in monitoring, detecting and defeating security threats before they manifest.

While it is common knowledge that Jamaica is neither a producer of guns nor most illegal drugs, what is not so widely known is the island's important strategic location as a trans-shipment point for the trafficking of illicit goods through the Caribbean. Our ports and very porous coastal borders are the entry points for guns, drugs and other contraband being smuggled through our waters, and without effective measures to plug these gaps, the fight on land will continue to be a difficult struggle against the symptom, rather than an effective deterrent at the source.

The newly acquired fleet of Damen County Class Vessels is a key asset in plugging these gaps. Jamaica's maritime domain and territorial waters are approximately 25 times the size of our land mass, but as large as these 42m boats are, it is still a Herculean task to cover this amount of territory on a routine basis and in an effective manner.

The new boats, however, with their improved navigational software, partnered with similar maritime domain assets from nations who share the same waterways, will allow the country to have a strong detection and deterrent presence in our seas, given their ability to sustain a full 16-man crew for as much as two weeks at sea. This is crucial in disrupting the activities of those involved in getting guns and drugs into Jamaica.

The boats will be able to effectively pursue and prosecute traffickers at sea, given their 26-knot maximum speed and the two mounted 50-calibre Browning heavy-barrel machine guns. Having these boats commissioned and pressed into service in short order will immediately improve the effectiveness of the JDF Coast Guard, which was able to interdict more than $1.5 billion worth of cocaine and marijuana last year, despite not having them at their disposal. One can easily see the potential boost to our interdiction capabilities with the boats now in service.

Despite their obvious value, these boats are limited in their surveillance capability given that they can only detect objects by radar and line of sight up to the horizon line. The Government has, therefore, approved the acquisition of a Maritime Patrol Aircraft (MPA), which will effectively extend the surveillance range of the vessels. The aircraft will be able to detect smugglers from the air and relay coordinates to the boats for pursuit and interdiction as part of an overall maritime surveillance and detection system.

This is a welcome addition to the JDF Air Wing fleet, as it will finally have the capability to operate for long hours over maritime areas. While the make, type and full range of the MPA's maritime surveillance capabilities are classified for security reasons, it is important to note that it will have flexible, multi-mission capabilities.

advanced support

The aircraft will, for example, be able to conduct valuable over-land surveillance and patrol in support of internal security operations being conducted by the police and infantry. It will also be able to bring surveillance support to assist search and rescue, anti-poaching, human trafficking and anti-terrorism missions.

The MPA is a game-changer for the country as in the past, we have had to rely entirely on other jurisdictions to make their own surveillance aircraft available to assist us on extended, long-range aerial surveillance missions in search of drugs, guns and other illicit goods, as well as persons missing at sea.

The acquisition of the Damen vessels and the new Maritime Patrol and Surveillance Aircraft reflects a strategic move to detect, deter and head off the inflow of drugs, guns and ammunition before they arrive on our shores. Without this approach, we would be one step behind criminals, who would have a ready supply of weapons at their disposal.

If we can arrest the number of guns coming into the country, we will be better able to cauterise the epidemic of gun violence and thereby reduce the overall murder rate.

- Major Basil Jarrett is civil military cooperation and media affairs officer of the Jamaica Defence Force. Email feedback to