Original Location: Norfolk Naval Air Station
Current / Last Location: St. Augustine
Date of Commission: Norfolk: 22 January 1987; St. Augustine: 26 January 1989
Contained in the Drug Abuse Act of 1986 was a provision for an air facility to support the Grumman E2C Hawkeye aircraft. The Coast Guard was to form an air interdiction unit operating Navy E2C aircraft. The Navy was to provide the aircraft and provide support facilities to operate the aircraft. Naval Air Station Norfolk was the designated Naval support facility for E2C aircraft and became the initial site of CGAW1 (Coast Guard Airborne Warning Squadron One). The Coast Guard met with the Navy and the Grumman Corporation to discuss the implementation of a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA). During the discussion it became evident that NAS Norfolk had no hangar space, no buildings, no excess furniture, and no phones available for Coast Guard use. There was vacant area next to the VAW squadron seawall which was utilized. The MOA was signed off on 2 January 1987 and orders were issued for a pre–commissioning detachment to report to Norfolk and begin forming the unit, which ended up having a total of 76 personnel.
Temporary office spaces were obtained and hundreds of details had to be taken care of. Everything from service records to procurement of basic office supplies had to be looked after. The Coast Guard had never flown the E2C so aircrew qualification was required and Grumman assisted in maintenance training. The Hawkeye was equipped with an electronically advanced radar package which additionally required specialized maintenance and operational training. Intense on the job training was commenced. Flight Officers, necessary to interpret radar data and coordinating intercept targets, were obtained from the Navy and direct commissioned in the Coast Guard. The Coast Guard did not have Flight Officers and did not have the time to train them. This would be modified later on. The unit was formally commissioned on 22 January 1987 under the command of CDR. Norman Scurria.
For the first two months the aircraft were flown at a 600 hour per year level which was the Navy programmed level. In month three the unit increased that to 800 and by the end of six months the aircraft were at the 1000 hour level. Customs was getting barely 500 hours per year and it was not long before the Coast Guard was also operating the E2Cs initially assigned to Customs. This lead to the transfer of assets to St. Augustine, Florida.
The E-2C was an ideal platform to initially acquire targets, closely control intercept aircraft, data link a “real time” picture to an operations center, and provide command/control services for other aircraft. Initially intercept missions were assigned by the South Florida Interdiction Center. This was a joint operation of CCGD7 and the USCS. CGD7 also assigned many planned and dedicated Air Interdiction missions based on intelligence inputs and using resources from multiple agencies in pulse type operations. When C3I became operational the E2Cs, COMLANTAREA assets “Chopped” to C3I for mission assignment and control.
CAPT Tom Johnson assumed command of CGAW1 in July of 1989. Shortly after his arrival Air Facility Norfolk (CGAW-1) was disestablished and relocated to St. Augustine, Florida. Again working out of trailers, the high tempo air interdiction operations continued. Construction of a new hangar complex, a state-of-the-art 78,000 square foot facility, was completed in November. Two additional E-2C previously operated by the Customs Service had been obtained and the station's personnel complement was increased to 140. Coast Guard Air Station St. Augustine was formally commissioned on 26 January 1990.
Whenever narco-smugglers felt that the law enforcement agencies were on to their operation they would make changes in methods and procedures. Based on best intelligence and habit patterns basic air interdiction operations were developed. In the early 1980s the Custom Service significantly curtailed smugglers flying loads of drugs directly into remote/rural fields by putting radar operators into the FAA Miami Control Center to sort low/slow inbound aircraft targets that met the profile of operations. They would deploy enforcement teams on helicopters and track the smuggler to point of landing where an arrest and seizure would occur. These operations took place in the arrival zone which was the Custom Services area of responsibility. The Coast Guard had been given marine interdiction responsibility for the transit zone which extended from the U.S. shore line to the 12 mile limit of the source country. When the Coast Guard became actively involved in air interdiction a good deal of emphasis was placed on the transit and departure zones. With the change in mode of operation the E-2cs were deployed to six foreign Forward Operating Bases in the Caribbean stretching from Belize to Carioca to Grenada. In addition many CONUS bases were routinely used as staging areas. Deployment locations were based on known methods of operation and intelligence information that was getting better and better. This type operation proved to be most effective. During the last year of operation E2 aircraft were deployed 293 days out of the year.
One E2C, #3501, crashed during a landing at Roosevelt Roads, Puerto Rico, on 24 August 1990 and all four crewmen on board were killed. Coast Guard Air Station St. Augustine, CGAW-1, was disestablished 22 November 1991. VADM Welling, Atlantic Area Commander spoke words of praise and tribute to the men and women who for a period of five years flew, operated and maintained sophisticated E-2C Hawkeye AEW aircraft in an exemplary manner.
1987-CDR Norman V. Scurria, Jr.
CAPT Thomas S. Johnson, III
Air Station Files, U. S. Coast Guard Historian's Office
Arthur Pearcy. A History of U. S. Coast Guard Aviation. Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 1989