In this HITRON history series, the USCG spoke with Tony Tangeman (retired Captain). He was the chief of law enforcement for the Coast Guard and the project manager for the proof of concept team that determined the use helicopters to stop the fast vessels dedicated to narcotics smuggling.
This project led to the formation of the Helicopter Interdiction Tactical Squadron (HITRON).
HITRON operations started as an experiment in 1998 to halt the flow of illegal drugs into the U.S. Drug trafficking organizations primarily used “go-fast” boats, high-speed smuggling vessels capable of traveling over twice the speed of Coast Guard cutters. The Coast Guard needed a way to counter the threat.
In late 1998, six Coast Guard pilots and four enlisted aircrew members developed tactics and procedures to utilize armed helicopters operating aboard Coast Guard cutters (USCGC) to answer the call.
HITRON helicopters operate in known smuggling vectors and rely on expertly trained aircrews and precision marksmen to disable go-fast drug smuggling vessels in the event suspects refuse to comply with verbal and visual warnings for law enforcement boardings under international maritime law. This series focuses on the founding members, pioneers, and stakeholders who have played an essential part in HITRON’s history.
The HITRON began operating with rented helicopters MH-90 Enforcer, USCG designation for the MD900 Explorer which were later replaced by the type MD902 (made by MD Helicopters). The MH-90s gave way to Italian aircraft MH-68A Mako (Agusta A109 Power). In the present the Helicopter Interdiction Tactical Squadron aircrews fly eight MH-65 Dolphin.
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