United States Customs Service P-3 AEW airborne early warning radar aircraft provide radar coverage wherever needed, including: the southern border, the Caribbean, or over international waters adjacent to as well as over source and transit countries. Established by Congress during the late 1960's in response to the growing number of airborne smugglers bringing drugs into the United States, the Customs Aviation Interdiction Program became operational in 1971. Its mission: to stem the flow of illicit drugs coming into the U.S. through the air and to assist other federal, state and local law enforcement agencies.
The Air and Marine Interdiction Division [AMID] is an element of the President's National Drug Control Policy. In addition to protecting the borders of the United States, USCS air and marine crews work in conjunction with the law enforcement agencies and military forces of other nations in support of their counter-narcotic programs. The AMID provides detection and monitoring, interceptor support, and coordinated training with military and law enforcement personnel of other countries. The Customs P-3 AEW airborne early warning (AEW) aircraft provide radar coverage over the jungles and mountainous regions of Central and South America. They also patrol the vast Southwest Border and international waters to monitor shipping lanes and air routes in search of smuggling activities. P-3 interceptor aircraft often augment the AEW aircraft to identify and track suspect targets.
In 1997 the performance goal for P-3 (aircraft type) detection and monitoring was to achieve rates of at least 82 hours per detection, at least 85 percent tracking success, and at least 3 pounds of cocaine seizures per hour. During the year Customs achieved a rate of 61.8 hours per suspect target acquisition, 92 percent tracking success, and 5.1 pounds of cocaine seizures per hour. Detection and monitoring improved principally due to a decrease in Department of Defense detection and monitoring availability and a resulting increased reliance on Customs P-3 aircraft in the source and transit zones. Higher rates are achieved by employing aircraft in areas where they are most likely to acquire drug smuggling aircraft targets, and in essence, minimize the hours these aircraft need to fly to acquire a suspect target. Percent tracking is measured from target acquisition to the point where the target aircraft lands or is handed-off to apprehension forces. High performance reflects the skill and experience of Customs aircrew and the capabilities of the P-3 airframe and equipment, and the ability and will of foreign host nations to respond in their countries. Resulting cocaine seizures markedly improved due to increased aircraft use against non-commercial maritime drug movement, principally in the east Pacific route towards Mexico. Customs P-3 aircraft are one of the few governmentwide capable of handling targets in this large and geographically isolated region.
On September 27th, 1999 the Customs Service announced that the Customs Service would begin stationing long-range P-3 drug surveillance aircraft at an additional Customs P-3 Branch being established at Naval Air Station, Jacksonville, Florida. At that time, all eight Customs P-3 aircraft were based at Naval Air Station, Corpus Christi. Between September 1999 and July 2002, Customs will receive eight additional P-3 drug interdiction aircraft, specially outfitted with sophisticated radars and surveillance equipment to detect aircraft suspected of carrying illegal drugs. These aircraft are used to detect planes and boats as they depart known drug source areas, and as they transit the sea and airways heading north.
With eight additional P-3's due to come on board over three years, the Service needed a second base to house them. Jacksonville was an ideal location because it is already a P-3 master base which can efficiently train our pilots and maintain aircraft. With its proximate location to the Caribbean, ability to overfly Florida's expansive coastline which has long been exploited by drug-traffickers, the basing of the Customs Service drug surveillance aircraft at Jacksonville is a natural fit. The Naval air station in Jacksonville has a long history of providing ground support and training for this work-horse aircraft and it is an ideal location to coordinate the P-3's drug interdiction efforts throughout the state.
The Customs Service P3s perform a critical service for the nation, helping to safeguard against the influx of illicit drugs. The expansion of the Customs P3 fleet to Jacksonville will increase coverage of drug trafficking routes and, in addition, there will be a synergy between Navy P3 operators and Customs Service P3 operations at the Naval Air Station, Jacksonville, as these two organizations can share logistical support and thus reduce costs.
Four of the planes to be based at Jacksonville will be outfitted with Airborne Early Warning (AEW) radar, with its unique rotating dome mounted on the top of the plane's fuselage. The remaining four will be upgraded and modernized P-3s "Slicks", containing state-of-the art surveillance systems and radars.
Corpus Christi was the location to house the first P-3's in the Customs fleet. Those planes had to cover the entire southern border of the United States, as well as a number of source country nations. With the additional funding provided by Congress for new P-3's, comes the additional need for a broader geographic deployment. Together, the Corpus Christi and Jacksonville P-3 centers will adequately meet the growing needs of the Customs fleet.
In 1998 funds were authorized to be appropriated for the Department of the Treasury for fiscal years 1999, 2000, and 2001 for the enhancement of air coverage and operation for drug source and transit countries in the total amount of $886,500,000. This included funds for the procurement of 10 P-3B Early Warning aircraft for the United States Customs Service to enhance overhead air coverage of drug source zone countries, and for the procurement and deployment of 10 P-3B Slick airplanes for the United States Customs Service to enhance overhead air coverage of the drug source zone.
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