1998 Congressional Hearings
Intelligence and Security



Before the Subcommittee on Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation

Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure

United States House of Representatives


June 10, 1998


Mr. Chairman and Members of the Subcommittee, thank you for allowing me to testify before you today. My name is Barry Raff, and I am the program manager for counter-drug programs at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel Maryland.

I would like to speak today about an exciting new application of technology that will enable US drug interdiction forces to get a leg up on maritime drug traffickers. This technology, which is a new application of existing anti-submarine warfare technology, is based upon the use of unmanned sonar buoys and listening posts to detect drug trafficking vessels and warn our forces with enough lead time to interdict these vessels.

Of the several hundred metric tons of cocaine produced in South America for the North American market, approximately 70% travels over water routes where drug runners are vulnerable to intercept by U.S. and liaison forces. Because Coast Guard cutters and Navy combatants are slower than drug trafficking vessels, surveillance cueing of U.S. ships by surveillance assets is critical for successful intercept. The drug runner’s small, high speed craft have low radar and optical signatures, and current surveillance operations with aircraft and ships using legacy systems appear to be ineffective, resulting in low seizure rates.

Following World War II, antisubmarine warfare (ASW) became a top priority for the U.S. Navy and resulted in the investment of billions of dollars in systems for detecting, classifying, and localizing very quiet submarines. The ASW investment in 1998 alone is over $1 billion, not including platform costs, i.e., the cost of aircraft, combatants and submarines. Because the craft used by drug traffickers can be several orders of magnitude louder than a quiet submarine, Navy acoustic technology should be extremely effective for providing critical cueing information.

To investigate the feasibility of acoustic detection and cueing, The Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (JHU/APL) began by employing computer-simulated models developed for Navy applications. These models predicted detection ranges for a variety of acoustic sensors against the "Go-Fast" boat, a watercraft favored by drug runners. The next step was to actually demonstrate the performance of acoustic sensors at sea against actual boats in four separate operations. The first task was to make calibrated measurements of real targets. This was done at Joint Inter Agency Task Force – East (JIATF-E) in Key West in May of 1997, and the measurements validated the model predictions. The second task was to develop a prototype harbor-surveillance system and demonstrate it to the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) in Nassau in June 1997. This system consisted of a buoy-mounted sensor with a radio transmitter, a shore-based receiver, and a laptop target-classification processor. The battery-powered buoy was designed for long life and useful detection ranges in shallow water. The observed targets consisted of high speed power boats, fishing boats and general pleasure craft which all had distinct signatures and were easily discernible against the background noise. The experiment demonstrated that acoustic technology has the necessary detection range and target-classification potential to provide great operational advantage for these areas. At one location in Nassau a detection range of 3 miles was obtained from a single, omnidirectional hydrophone on the harbor floor.

The third task was to demonstrate an acoustic system for the Coast Guard during Gulf Shield. Acoustic sensors were mounted on navigational-aid buoys to create a barrier extending outward from the beach at Port Isabel in Texas. The acoustic processor, telemetry receiver, and recorder were placed close to an existing radar and infrared system. The data from the acoustic sensors were telemetered to a command center several miles away. All target vessels operated by the Coast Guard were detected and correctly identified during controlled tests. As the final exercise, APL coordinated with the Coast Guard to demonstrate the effectiveness of a towed array on board a US Navy combatant off of Guantanamo Bay. The test convincingly showed the potential of acoustics to track Go-Fast boats far beyond the Navy Combatant (FFG) surface search radar.

Also in separate incidents, U.S. ships in the Caribbean used acoustic sensors to successfully make Go-Fast boat detections at ranges where no other sensors responded. APL has the acoustic recording data from two encounters. One Go-Fast boat was successfully intercepted and a significant amount of illegal drugs was seized.

In summary, operational implementation of Navy acoustic sensor technology holds a promise of significantly aiding in the war on drugs by providing improved cueing at greatly decreased cost. Significant expertise and knowledge of the underwater environment, sensors, and evaluation methodology are already available as valuable assets to help solve this national problem.

The next step in the process is to provide the Coast Guard and other US drug interdiction agencies with the resources to deploy these systems in strategic locations. I believe this technology will aid US drug interdiction forces immeasurably in the immediate future, and hope the Congress will provide the necessary support to the Coast Guard to deploy it.

Mr. Chairman, I want to thank you and the Subcommittee Members again for this opportunity to appear before you today.