Can science and technology defeat Colombian drug cartels?

Despite having $1.3 billion to fund anti-narcotics operations in South America, Miami-based U.S. Southern Command has been facing shortages.

Not in budget, though -- in capabilities. A lack of good command and control systems, as well as deficient communications, particularly deep in the jungles of Colombia, have hampered efforts to fight narcotics traffickers.

Now the Defense Department is looking to science and technology, as well as a conglomeration of partner organizations and nations, to jump-start counter-drug operations, according to a DOD release.

Although SOUTHCOM’s Science, Technology and Experimentation program has been in operation since 2002, it’s modeling a U.S. Pacific Command program designed to identify gaps in the field and fill them using solutions from science and technology community.

According to DOD, those solutions include a range of tools and technologies: new radar systems that improve situational awareness in dense jungle cover; robotic capabilities to detect mines and improvised explosive devices; and nano-satellites that cost less than traditional satellites but still provide dependable communications and beyond-line-of-sight capabilities, among others.

A handful of networks – including the All Partners Access Network, which has been used in humanitarian and disaster response operations, as well as regional domain awareness efforts – are helping improve information-sharing between mission partners as well, according to DOD sources.

“The mission is to facilitate rapid development and transition of concepts and technologies into solutions that satisfy the needs of SOUTHCOM and its partners,” Juan Hurtado, SOUTHCOM science advisor, noted in his February presentation at the command’s annual Science, Technology and Experimentation conference, held in Miami.

According to information Hurtado presented, SOUTHCOM is engaging with a number of DOD partners in order to take a comprehensive approach that includes innovative solutions that solve problems distinctive to South American missions – and do so using less resources.

Among SOUTHCOM’s partners in the efforts: Joint Interagency Task Force South, a multi-agency, multi-national organization based in Key West; Office of Naval Research Global, Americas; Army International Technology Center-Americas; Air Force Research Laboratory’s Office of Scientific Research, southern office of aerospace; Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency; Army Research, Development and Engineering Command; and the Office of the Secretary of Defense’s Rapid Fielding Directorate. Other partner nations are also involved in the operations, according to DOD and Hurtado.

About the Author

Amber Corrin is a former staff writer for FCW and Defense Systems.

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