Navy Planes in Test Program to Help Hunt for Drug Smugglers

Times Staff Writer

Four radar-equipped tracking planes from Miramar Naval Air Station will soon begin patroling the international border between San Diego and Yuma, Ariz., in a six-month test program to determine whether the Navy can aid authorities in apprehending drug smugglers.

Under the arrangement approved Friday by Congress in an amendment to a defense bill, radar-equipped E-2 aircraft will be dispatched expressly to look for planes smuggling drugs through the 150-mile-long area, U.S. Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Chula Vista) said Friday. The Navy now routinely reports sightings of suspicious aircraft to the U.S. Customs Service.

The airplanes will patrol the area about 20 hours a month, beginning sometime before Sept. 30.

The four planes are Navy Reserve aircraft, and their cost of operation will be paid out of Miramar's operating budget, Hunter said.

"Only 1% of all the private aircraft entering the United States laden with illegal drugs are ever apprehended," Hunter said. "If this works out and we make more arrests or deter smugglers, then we'll make it permanent."

Jerome Hollander, a Customs spokesman, said the agency has similar agreements with the Air Force in Riverside.

"We appreciate any and all help from the military," Hollander said. "The E-2 is a good piece of equipment, and it should help us in that area."

Under the plan, the Navy will report any sightings to one of several Customs stations in the area, Hollander said. A Customs airplane will then be sent so authorities can make the arrests.

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