ROBOTICS AND AUTONOMOUS SYSTEMS
Coast Guard Closer to Acquiring Long-Awaited Ship-Based Drone
Photo: Defense Department
After more than a decade of waiting, the Coast Guard plans to release by the end of the month a request for proposals for a small unmanned aerial system to be launched off national security cutters, the service’s director of acquisition programs and program executive officer said Jan 11.
The Coast Guard hopes to release an eight-year contract and outfit eight NCSs with the UAS force package, Rear Adm. Mike Haycock said at the annual Surface Navy Association's National Symposium in Arlington, Virginia.
“For the Coast Guard, our ships and their boats and their aircraft and their UASs, that’s kind of a force package that’s necessary for us to do our business,” Haycock said, noting that the service has already successfully deployed prototypes of the system three times. The Coast Guard announced last year that the ScanEagle prototypes manufactured by Insitu helped the sailors on the Stratton national security cutter complete nine of 11 drug seizures during the summer.
The service already released a draft RFP in May. An attached statement of objectives notes the Coast Guard is seeking a low-cost system to provide aerial surveillance and a tactical airborne intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance capability and the ability to remain airborne for at least 12 hours per day.
The service has long attempted to develop the capability to conduct UAS missions with its national security cutters. Previously, the Coast Guard intended to procure a vertical takeoff-and-landing system — which was abandoned due to a lack of funding — through the Integrated Deepwater modernization program. However, in 2013, after almost a decade with no progress, the Department of Homeland Security approved the sUAS program as an “interim capability” for the ships, states a 2016 department report.
Cmdr. Dan Broadhurst, unmanned aerial system division chief at the Coast Guard’s office of aviation forces, said last year the service is also examining the possibility of integrating Group 1 and 2 drones, which typically have shorter range.
Meanwhile, Haycock said the service will need to perform midlife service extensions for its national security cutters, noting that the first ship, the Bertholf, was delivered in 2008. The Coast Guard is also looking to a perform service life extension for the small icebreaker, the Healy, he said.