The Contribution of Maritime Patrol Aircraft to Trans-National Cooperation: The Case of the CN-235


2013-02-13 Major challenges are provided to the modern state by trans-national forces, among the most powerful of which is trans-national crime.

The bad guys can innovate more rapidly with the use of modern technology, can the states which acquire technology more slowly, and tend to be more hierarchical than a distributed operations centered trans-national criminal syndicates.

CN235 MPA Mexican Navy. Credit: Airbus Military 

Shaping tools to fight back requires states to cooperate wherever possible and to share data in a timely manner and to enhance joint operations.

Especially important is to have capabilities which allow for joint operations in a dynamic environment.

For the USCG, maritime patrol aircraft are a key tool allowing them to cover more territory and to provide more coverage and capability for the surface vessels which need to prosecute the surface, air and sub-surface assets of the drug syndicates.

The USCG is relying on the CN-235 and new mission systems to allow them to enhance their capability to deal with their multi-mission challenges over water.  The role of maritime patrol aircraft is central to the USCG approach to its mission sets.

The role of these aircraft is to work synergistically with surface ships to provide for detection and enforcement of maritime security.

The aviation assets – helos and MPAs – exist as an extension of the ground and surface fleet capabilities.  Indeed, for the 21st century USCG much like for the 21st century US military overall, air assets extend the reach, range and capability to act of the surface assets.  For the USCG this means a simple truth: a surface ship without the long reach of an MPA or a UAV cannot see very far.  By extending the sight and reach of a ship or a fleet, the ability to act and to protect US equities and interests are significantly expanded.

According to Captain Richard Kenin, then Commanding Officer of the USCG, Air Station, Miami, the Ocean Sentry is an important element in their counter-drug operations.

SLD: The CASA aircraft was designed in part to operate in the Mediterranean and the Caribbean has a great deal of similarity, I would assume that the fit is pretty good.

Captain Kenin: It is and we need the loiter time this aircraft has. We really need the airplane that can stay out 7 or 8 hours and that is important for a number of different reasons.  First is that you can actually cover the ground that you need to.  Second, it takes a long time for the ship to get there. And we have problems in the past when I found the ship, but now I had to leave and now we lost it.  And then by the time the ship or another asset comes, whether it would be CBP or another Coast Guard asset, it is difficult to find they are gone. And we play a lot of cat and mouse with smugglers in the Caribbean overseas, so it is important to be able to find these folks because they will try to dodge and hide until we are forced to leave.

But a little noted fact is that they are not the only players in the Caribbean or the Gulf of Mexico relying on this aircraft. 

Ironically, a European-built aircraft is providing one tool enhancing the ability of the US and allies in the region to fight back against transnational crime.

The Colombian Navy and Air Force have a force of 6 CN-235s used for various missions, including operations over water to provide in the war against the drug lords.  The use of air assets has been an important part of the Colombian effort to fight back and to contain the threat of trans-national crime.

For Mexico, the restructuring of the Mexican armed forces to help combat trans-national crime has been a major effort of the Mexican state.  It has as well been a major element where cooperation between the United States and Mexico has been highlighted as well.

An element of the Mexican restructuring of their forces has been transforming the Mexican navy from using fast jets to support their operations to the use of CN-235s.  Some of these aircraft have been purchased outright by the Mexicans, but some are being purchased as well with US aid.

As Inigo Guevara Mouyano highlighted in a paper on the modernization of the Mexican military:

A radical shift in naval aviation planning saw the decision to exchange a requirement for 12 jet fighters to a requirement for a fleet of 15 turbo-prop maritime surveillance aircraft.  SEMAR, which already possess eight C-212PM maritime patrol aircraft, selected the CN-235MP… Commonality with the C-212 (also an Airbus Military product) and with the US Coast Guard’s HC-144 ocean sentry (the USCG designation of its CN-235MPs) was a factor.

Mouyano added that US aid plays a role as well.

During the period from 2006-2011, the United States has announced transfers of four additional CN-235MP Persuader maritime patrol aircraft… and three UH-60M Black Hawk medium-lift helicopters.

Modernizing the Mexican Military

The Mexican and Colombian aircraft are configured the same way, while the USCG versions have different mission systems.  But the US is leading an effort to promote greater capabilities to share data across the CN-235 fleet.

Such a “fleet” can be enhanced by shaping more effective joint con-ops for allies in providing for common security needs and requirements.

And such commonality can permit as well something like the model of the working relationship between the 12th Air Force and the Dominican Republic practiced with their Super Tucanos.

The 12th is supporting nations just off our shore and recently held a U.S. Air Power demonstration in celebration of 100 years of aviation in the Dominican Republic.

Unheralded success has just been achieved by this partnership between SOUTHCOM and the Dominican Republic Air Force flying the Embraer Air Super Tucano. This remarkable and replicable success is made possible by U.S. “Hi” ISR technology in partnership with the Dominican Republic “Lo” technology the Super Tucano.

It has not been widely reported that this war against drug barons is being won in the sky.

Although drug money is unrelenting in finding ways to supply their corrosive product for now in the war against narco-criminials and terrorist this is a huge accomplishment, and the opening headline from Dominican Today quoted above says it all.

In short, the advantage of a common fleet of CN-235s is the ability to build greater connectivity is inherent in the fleet’s commonality.

Such a fleet and its data sharing capabilities is an important tool in the fight against trans-national crime.

And it is a relatively unnoticed one as well.