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Wildcat prepare for ‘war on drugs’ in Caribbean

Naval aviators practised intercepting drug-runners in speedboats off Florida as they prepare to do the job for real.

The fliers of Wildcat 211 Flight chased down US Coast Guard personnel playing the role of traffickers in waters off Jacksonville as they tried to outwit – and outrun – the British helicopter.

The Coast Guard use a ‘tactical training boat’ which possesses the characteristics (chiefly size, speed and manoeuvrability) of the ‘go-fast’ boats employed in the illegal narcotics trade to move drugs from South to North America.

The helicopter and the air and ground crew supporting it will soon join RFA Mounts Bay, the British support ship on a three-year deployment to the Caribbean.

Wildcats from 815 NAS are key players in the War on Drugs

Lieutenant Lee Holborn RN

The vessel dedicates roughly three quarters of the year to joining the international struggle against drug-running and the rest of her time on stand-by to respond to hurricanes devastating communities in the region.

Last year the Wildcat team of 207 Flight scored three busts, stopping drugs with a cut street value in excess of £114m reaching their destinations.

And over the winter, with a US Coast Guard helicopter embarked, Mounts Bay has helped to stop the flow of some drugs, with traffickers ditching their cargos in the Caribbean when sighted.

The Coast Guard team at Jacksonville are regarded as the world leaders in ‘airborne use of force’ to stop traffickers in their tracks.

The fortnight’s training for the 28 personnel from 815 Naval Air Squadron, normally based at RNAS Yeovilton in Somerset, began with flying in the Coast Guard’s Dauphin helicopters against the speedboat for an understanding of tactics and methods used by the Americans, before repeating the sorties in their Wildcat, working with a Coast Guard Law Enforcement Detachment Team (the legal authorities for busts in the Caribbean).

The Wildcat has a powerful array of sensors including radar able to ‘see’ targets 250 miles away, a camera with a mighty 80-mile range, and a state-of-the-art communications suite. And in the back of the helicopter, two Royal Marines snipers man a rifle, ready to halt a go-fast in its tracks.

“This training in Florida is invaluable as it allows the crew to fly in theatre conditions against something similar to the boats we can expect to meet.

"We’re now looking forward to going down range and doing the dance with the bad guys,” said Lieutenant Lee Holborn.

“Wildcats from 815 NAS are key players in the War on Drugs, feared by the drugs runners – when they see us in the sky and know their time smuggling drugs is shortly to be over.”

His flight will spend seven and a half months aboard Mounts Bay, conducting counter-narcotics patrols when not required for responding to acts of God.

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