Department of Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge recently approved the use of the Coast Guard's Helicopter Interdiction Tactical Squadron (HITRON) for armed specialized missions in our nation's ports and waterways.
"The use of Coast Guard HITRON for armed aerial patrols will increase the level of security in our ports, provide an additional layer of defense, ensure the continued safe flow of commerce and deter possible acts of terrorism on our nation's key ports," said Secretary Ridge.
The Coast Guard has used HITRON helicopters and crews for drug interdiction operations in the Caribbean and southeast Pacific Ocean since August 1999. "HITRON pilots and crews are already trained in aerial use of force for drug interdiction, so it was a natural fit for them to meld into use for homeland security patrols," Ridge said.
HITRON operates under the Maritime Homeland Security Airborne Use of Force Policy. Members assigned to HITRON developed airborne use of force tactics in order to counter possible terrorist threats to the United States. "We stand poised to protect our country's ports and waterways as requested by the President or Secretary Ridge," said CDR Robert Palatka, Acting Commanding Officer of HITRON in Jacksonville, Fla.
Some examples of how HITRON could be used if there is a specific threat to a port are: enforcing moving security zones around
tankers and other possible terrorist targets; aerial enforcement of naval vessel protection zones; enforcement of properly established restricted waterfront areas and other designated danger zones and during times of heightened risk to Coast Guard boarding teams.
HITRON can be used on routine aerial patrols during heightened security alerts, when there is a specific threat to a port around the country and when there is an imminent threat to critical infrastructure or certain waterfront facilities.