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Monday, July 05, 2010

Another Drug Sub Seized (UPDATE) - A Real Submarine

Breitbart has it as DEA Seize Drug-smuggling Submarine. UPDATE: But, as noted in the comment, the captured sub was allegedly capable of "full submersion" (see here), a significant step up from the already troubling semi-submersibles already in use, as The Register's Lewis Page notes:
A proper diesel-electric submarine like the one discovered at the weekend has the option of shutting down its engines and submerging fully to run on batteries. The sub is then completely invisible on radar and infrared: interdiction forces can then only locate it by using sonar, which is shorter-ranging, far less reliable, and very expensive to use on a large scale.

A modern military diesel-electric boat can travel some hundreds of miles on battery power, though with the disadvantage of moving at a crawl - it will travel less than a hundred miles in a day like this. Higher speeds are possible, but they slash range to a small fraction of the maximum.

The chances are that the Ecuadorian drug-sub had no such long-ranging fully submerged capabilities: it is probably only capable of shorter journeys entirely underwater, and intended to work in semi-submerged or surfaced mode much of the time, like a World War II German U-boat. In especially heavily watched waters, or if approached by law-enforcement units, the sub would dive and go slow on batteries, confident that it could no longer be followed.
Although some submarine hobbyists have long mocked the "drug subs" (see here) for being "crude" - an opinion that may require some re-thinking.

Earlier posts (dating back to 2006) on drug subs here, here, here, here, here. And, a post from 2008 featuring an interview with Commander Cameron Naron, Deputy Chief, Coast Guard Office of Law Enforcement regarding these drug subs here. At the time of the interview, no such boats had been seen in the Gulf of Mexico or Caribbean. This seems to have changed and here.

A good post by Alex Pasternack here with some good video on the "older" models of drug semi-submersibles.


  1. Anonymous7:40 AM

    The DEA describes the sub shown here as capable of total submersion, not the semi-submersion of the crafts cited in your previous reporting. The others were major, this is epic in terms of national security.

  2. Thanks, I have updated the post.

  3. Saturn59:15 AM

    We only get information about such semi submersible or in this case total submersible craft only after they have been captured. But can anyone say for sure that all that have captured is all that have been constructed?
    Did any of these slipped away and is already started to ferry its cargo back and forth? That is the question that bothers me.

  4. D. E. Reddick11:57 AM


    I looked at pictures of the sub's construction 'slipway' and it appeared to have been in use for some time. This may not be the first vessel to have been built there (perhaps semi-submersibles were launched from this site). So, this fully-submersible vessel may not be the only one to have been completed.

  5. Anonymous7:36 PM

    Diesel electric subs have been around for decades. Running on battery power does make them somewhat quieter but they are easy to locate with the equipment we currently employ unless the boat is of the most current design.
    If that's the case they are hard to find but I don't think that sub is of the modern variety.

  6. Time to increase the number P-3 patrols in the Gulf of Mexico.

  7. Anonymous2:41 PM

    Perhaps it was premature for the Navy/Coast Guard to remove ASW capability back in the 1990's when they FRAM-ed the 378' WHEC Hamilton Class Cutters! In addition unless they install MODULAR ASW capability on the NSC National Security Cutter we are no better off to detect, deter, or destroy such threats as we were back in the 1960's. The New World Order didnt turn out like they thought! Thank God for the P-8 Posiedon. Can Firescout be adapted to ASW like DASH used to be? Firescout does have a 600lbs.lift capacity?

  8. D. E. Reddick,

    Thank you for your comments and additional information.