The Pentagon plans to replace six U.S. Army Black Hawks pulled from counter-drug operations in the Caribbean to support combat overseas with three S-76s.
The decision came at the urging of Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), who opposed then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s decision late last year to pull Army air support from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration’s counter-drug Operation Bahamas, Turks and Caicos (OPBAT). Florida’s senior senator, Nelson also is a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee. Florida is heavily impacted by the illegal drug trade.
Started in 1982, OPBAT is credited by the DEA with driving smugglers away from the vast chain of islands. More than 80 percent of cocaine shipments to the U.S. once came through the Bahamas and Caribbean. Today, that’s estimated to be 10 percent.
The DEA has one helicopter in the Bahamas and the Coast Guard has three HH-60J Jayhawks. Nelson said the Army on Jan. 9 offered to give the DEA three relatively new Sikorsky S-76s by next year to replace the Black Hawks, plus $3.4 million a year for the next five years for the helicopters’ base. The offer must be approved by the White House.