ROBOTICS AND AUTONOMOUS SYSTEMS
JUST IN: New Coast Guard Team to Flesh Out Unmanned Systems Requirements
The Coast Guard plans to set up a new group to look at the service’s needs for a variety of unmanned systems, the commandant said March 11.
The sea service is already deploying small ScanEagle drones on a number of its National Security Cutters, and it has been partnering with Customs and Border Protection to deploy the MQ-9 Guardian unmanned aerial system for maritime domain awareness in Central America for counter-drug missions. But it wants to take a closer look at other platforms, said Adm. Karl Schultz.
“Last fall, our Research and Development Center tested the ability of unmanned surface vessels to augment traditional ship and aviation capabilities for operations in the far reaches of the Pacific Ocean,” he said during his annual State of the Coast Guard Address, which was delivered in San Diego.
“We learned that the future of our unmanned systems strategy will most likely rely on more diverse systems and effective integration of machine learning to unlock actionable data for Coast Guard operators,” he said. “These are valuable lessons as we stand up an unmanned systems element within our Coast Guard requirements shop to consider how unmanned technology can augment our future fleet.”
Historically, the sea service has been mainly focused on the potential of unmanned aerial systems. But the Coast Guard needs to also look at unmanned surface vessels and unmanned underwater vessels, he noted during a roundtable with reporters after his speech.
“It’s really a UxS office,” he said of the new group that will be set up to look at requirements.
“We've been UAS aviation [focused]. UxS is going to get us into surface, potentially sub-surface” robotic platforms, he added. “This office in headquarters is just going to give us a little more focus and purpose on stepping into UxS in all domains and figuring out how it helps enable Coast Guard operations.”
The sea service performs a variety of missions including surveillance, counter-drug operations and search and rescue. But there is a lot of ocean to cover and a limited amount of manpower and manned vessels to go around, he noted.
“We’re looking at, how do you surveil broad areas of ocean with modern technologies [and] employ big data-type things?” he said. “There's a finite amount of Coast Guard but there's a tremendous lot of places that we need to get domain awareness.”
Schultz said the service has not yet begun assigning personnel to the new unmanned requirements team. When asked, he did not provide a target date for when he hopes to have it up and running, but said it will be “sooner than later.”
The service’s R&D center has been doing some experimentation with a 29-foot unmanned boat off of Hawaii. Some additional funding for research and development of robotic systems will likely be included in the 2022 and 2023 budget requests, he noted.
However, with limited budgets, the Coast Guard is looking to piggyback off of the unmanned capabilities that the other armed services — which are better funded — develop for their own purposes.
The Navy is pursuing a variety of robotic aerial, surface and underwater platforms, and the Coast Guard will be keeping a close eye on those efforts. The service could adapt systems developed for other organizations for its own purposes, Schultz said.
“The Coast Guard generally does best when we're not on the bleeding edge” of technology development, he said. “We sort of look at commercial-off-the-shelf; following, you know, our other fellow services and seeing what they're doing. We’ve just got a finite amount of R&D dollars. … We just don't have a lot of that budgetary maneuver space to take high risks there.”