U.S. Air Force to Deploy E-3 AWACS, E-8 JSTARS Aircraft to Curaçao Near Venezuela for “Counter-Narcotics Operations”

The U.S. Air Force will temporarily deploy an E-3 Sentry AWACS and an E-8 Joint STARS (JSTARS) aircraft to Curaçao in the Caribbean region to support enhanced counter-narcotics operations.

The aircraft are two of the most sophisticated surveillance aircraft in the Air Force inventory and deploying them for counter-narcotics operations in Curaçao will definitely raise some eyebrows as the Dutch Caribbean island is just 65 km (40 mi) north of the Venezuelan coast.

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The Boeing E-3 Sentry, commonly known as AWACS, is an airborne early warning and control (AEW&C) aircraft. It provides all-weather surveillance, command, control, and communications for the military.

The Northrop Grumman E-8 Joint STARS (Surveillance Target Attack Radar System) is an airborne ground surveillance (AGS), battle management system (BMS) and command and control (C2) aircraft. It tracks ground vehicles and some aircraft, collects imagery, and relays tactical pictures to ground and air theater commanders.

The two aircraft will be deployed along with two KC-135 Stratotanker aerial refueling aircraft to provide tanker support. Approximately 200 airmen, including aircrews, maintenance technicians, logisticians and administrative personnel will support the operation.

According to the U.S. Southern Command (USSOUTHCOM), the patrol aircraft will fly detection and monitoring missions in international airspace to help U.S. and international law enforcement authorities disrupt and defeat transnational criminal organizations trafficking illegal narcotics in the region. Twenty-two countries support counter-narcotics efforts as part of Joint Interagency Task Force-South (JIATF-South).

The aircraft will operate from the Curaçao-hosted Cooperative Security Location (CSL), also commonly referred to as a forward operating location, in Willemstad. U.S. Air Force aircraft have previously conducted similar missions from the CSL under a counter narcotics partnership agreement with the governments of Curaçao and the Kingdom of the Netherlands dating back two decades.

President Donald Trump announced the enhanced counter-narcotics operations April 1. Since then, the U.S. has collaborated with international partners in more than a dozen Caribbean interdiction events.

To date, U.S. enhanced counter narcotics operations have resulted in the seizure of more than 49 metric tons of cocaine and almost 13,000 pounds of marijuana, an estimated loss of $1.2 billion to transnational criminal organizations. Law enforcement authorities have also detained more than 160 drug smugglers during the operations.

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