Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Paul Yost ended a five-day tour of Caribbean installations Saturday, declaring his troops ready to fight drug smugglers and eager for a scheduled increase of resources in 18 months.

Yost said a $43 million budget cut last year, which he described as a mistake, had hurt the service's interdiction efforts, which are slowly being rebuilt and redeployed with expanded radar detection."We're not doing as good a job as I want us to do," Yost said. "The problem is the amount of assets it takes to try to seal a border. And we don't have those assets. We'll never have the assets."

"The problem is the amount of assets it takes to try to seal a border. And we don't have those assets. We'll never have the assets." ~ The commandant left Washington Tuesday to visit the Bahamas, south Florida and the Guantanamo Naval Base in Cuba, flying in various types of aircraft used by the agency in its war against drugs.

"excited, aggressive, enthusiastic," about their role in the nation's drug battle, Yost said, "but frustrated that they not doing better."

Yost said within 18 months, the Coast Guard will triple its surveillance capability off the Florida coast and in the small islands frequently used by smugglers on their way to the United States.

Detection has been a missing element in the Coast Guard's operation, he said. Fast cutters to patrol the coastal waters, and swift airplanes to catch smugglers have been part of its arsenal for some time.

But highly sophisticated radar detection systems needed to spot smugglers' aircraft have remained out of reach as the agency seeks to boost its budget for such equipment, he said.

The Coast Guard Miami Air Station, based at Opa-locka Airport north of Miami, received two modified interceptor Falcon jets Thursday, each equipped with $7 million in tracking radar. The base has five jets, capable of chasing smugglers at 600 mph. Three planes are based at Mobile, Ala.

"It's taken over a year and a half to bring those assets on board," Yost said.

"We have now quite a few apprehension assets, quite a few tracking assets, but the detection assets aren't here yet," he added. "I think in 18 months I'm going say we've got it all together and we're doing a pretty darn good job in cocaine. I think in nine months, I'm going to say about half of it's aboard.

"If I were a drug smuggler, I'd get out of the business," he said.

The Coast Guard has two AWACS radar aircraft, used at high altitude to spot smugglers' aircraft, balloons in Freeport, the Bahamas, and Cudjoe Key and scattered aviation radar used to spot high-level aircraft.

Balloons are being added in Georgetown, the Bahamas, at Great Exhuma near the Turks and Caicos islands, and at four or five locations in the Gulf of Mexico, while the Cape Canaveral balloon will be moved to near Venice, Fla., he said.

Many radar units currently being used are unable to spot the small, low-flying aircraft that skim the top of the waves to penetrate the perimeter along the coast. The balloons, at a cost of $15 million each, can see such aircraft.

"We're trying to put in a whole new net that looks for the low, slow stuff," he said.

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