Minisubs were famously deployed in World War II, most prolifically by the Japanese, and their mixed record has played against their widespread use, despite the inherent coolness and advantages of the platform. Work continues on various vehicles for Special Forces, but smugglers continue to lead the way — at least overtly.
Anyone following the Colombian cartels’ merchant shippers can’t help but be struck by their astounding ingenuity and determination. The success of the self-propelled, semi-submersible narcosubs led them to become an outright-banned vessel type. Congress recently made the owning and operation of semi-subs illegal in American waters, as part of drug-interdiction legislation.
Now this underground shipbuilding industry has advanced to true submersibles. Built in the jungles and swamps along the Pacific coasts of Colombia and northern Ecuador, these vessels are cheaply-made long-range diesel subs, capable of delivering an eight-to-10-ton payload thousands of miles, while fully submerged using snorkels and batteries. Crew accommodations are likely atrocious, as they are in all such smugglers’ craft, but then the cartels aren’t overly concerned with crew safety or morale.
Narcosubs are worth studying for a number of reasons, including reverse-engineering their economies of production. However, as Craig Hooper’s recent article points out, small subs are an unexpected but effective delivery platform for WMDs. Admiral Stephen Metruck from the U.S. Coast Guard’s 11th District, has indicated concern about the merger of two areas of his concern: port security and drug interdiction.
This might seem like a video-game scenario, until you notice that the President of Iran just had a swell visit to Ecuador during his South American tour. Although Ecuador is a long-time U.S. ally (and uses the U.S. dollar as its currency), it’s also an OPEC nation with a grudge against ugly-gringo business and a left-leaning administration cozying up to Venezuela. If it’s widely believed that ex-USSR naval architects are overseeing the narcosub developments, what’s to prevent Iranian agencies from establishing offices in say, Esmeraldas or Tumaco?