A bipartisan group of lawmakers wants to boost the Coast Guard’s ability to seize illicit drugs with the assistance of drones.
Spearheaded by Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla., lawmakers introduced legislation Thursday that would allocate $5 million in both fiscal years 2020 and 2021 for additional long-range maritime patrol aircraft within the Coast Guard’s land-based unmanned aircraft system program.
The Coast Guard Drug Detection and Interdiction Act would also provide $2 million in fiscal years 2020 and 2021 to examine the expanded use of medium range unmanned aircraft systems in the program. It also requires the Commandant of the Coast Guard to provide a report to Congress on using unmanned aircraft systems for surveillance of marine protected areas and the Arctic.
Although the Coast Guard has actionable intelligence on more than 80 percent of the drugs filtering in to the U.S. from South America, the Coast Guard only has the capacity to seize 10 percent, according to a news release from Scott’s office. The legislation attempts to fill that gap.
“The U.S. Coast Guard keeps families in Florida safe by patrolling the beaches, shore waters, and maritime territory of our state and by conducting search and rescue operations,” Scott said in a statement. “But one of their most important jobs is to intercept boat shipments of illegal drugs and the victims of human trafficking. By providing our U.S. Coast Guard members with additional ways to identify and prevent drugs from coming into our country, we are keeping American families safe.”
Sens. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., and Todd Young, R-Ind., also sponsored the legislation.
“Arizona leads the way in developing and deploying unmanned aircraft systems, which are proven tools in our work against drug smuggling,” Sinema said in a statement. “Providing the U.S. Coast Guard access to these critical tools will help keep Americans safe.”
The legislation coincides with the Coast Guard releasing a video on July 11 depicting service members tackling a submarine carrying more than $500 million of cocaine during a mission on June 18. Although the submarine was partially submerged, the service members jumped onto the vessel to open its hatch.