DATE=3/31/2000 TYPE=BACKGROUND REPORT TITLE=U-S MILITARY / DRUG WAR NUMBER=46064 BYLINE=ALISHA RYU DATELINE=LOS ANGELES CONTENT= INTERNET=YES Intro: As drug smuggling into the United States becomes more sophisticated operations, the U-S military is increasing its range of high-tech options and firepower to catch drug traffickers. As V-O-A's Alisha Ryu reports, the U-S Coast Guard patrolling the corridor from Baja California to Ecuador in the eastern Pacific, is getting much needed help from the U-S Navy. Text: The U-S Navy's guided missile cruiser, Valley Forge, left its home port in San Diego this week for a six-month mission in hostile waters. Its mission is to catch a quarry that remains one of the most elusive on the high seas - the so-called "go-fast" boats of the drug cartels. These sleek boats are powered by four 250-horsepower engines and can cut through water at up to 112 kilometers an hour. Because of their agility and superior speed, the boats have been defeating Coast Guard efforts to keep them from entering the United States and unloading more than a metric tons of drugs a day. But thanks to a recent budget increase, the Coast Guard is changing tactics and, along with the Navy, is adding more manpower, horsepower, and firepower in their on-going war against drug smuggling. Steve Lucas is the spokesman for the United States Southern Command, a joint command that includes all five branches of the Armed Services. // First Lucas Act // The struggle is getting more intense. Our role is to provide platforms and support and supporting information to the drug enforcement agencies, capabilities that we need to see and get close to these traffickers' ships, aircraft and boats. // End Act // Last year, the Coast Guard changed its long-standing policy that prohibited shooting at suspected targets unless it was fired upon first. Coast Guard sharpshooters now have the authority to fire warning shots, and if needed, use non-lethal weapons to punch holes and disable the go-fast boats. Its personnel have also been taught how to board hostile ships, using ropes to climb down from a hovering helicopter. And the Coast Guard has added new inflatable chase boats that can go faster than the older models. For some patrols, the Coast Guard uses its own cutters. But for longer missions, Mr. Lucas says Navy ships like the Valley Forge provide something Coast Guard cutters do not have - high-tech electronic gear that can detect, classify and track multiple moving targets. // Second Lucas Act // We have things that were developed for combat - over-the-horizon radar, fine-resolution radar and all systems that make sailors so potent in combat. // End Act // The Navy's role, Mr. Lucas says, is to not only to help police the area but to intimidate the drug lords. At any given time, the Navy has five to seven ships on patrol with the Coast Guard on both coasts and the Caribbean. But Mr. Lucas predicts the nation's war on drugs is likely to continue until demand for the drugs can be reduced. Between September of 1998 and 1999, the Coast Guard seized almost 18 metric tons of cocaine and other drugs from smugglers in the eastern Pacific alone. Since then, the figure has risen to 22 metric tons and still rising. (Signed) NEB/PT 31-Mar-2000 20:00 PM EDT (01-Apr-2000 0100 UTC) NNNN Source: Voice of America .