The influencial Conservative think tank, Heritage Foundation, has issued a report on the Department of Homeland Security that will likely strongly influence the incoming administration and Congress.
It does not call for any radical increase in the Coast Guard budget for FY2017 ($10.85B). In fact it calls of less funding than was enacted in 2016 ($11.112B), but more than the current administration has requested ($10.322B).
It does support the Offshore Patrol Cutter (OPC) and Polar Icebreaker (PIB) programs and continued procurement of six Webber class (FRC) rather than the four currently requested.
For the future, it appears they support a more stable AC&I budget of at least $1.5B. To me it appears likely the AC&I budget will go higher as both the OPC and PIB enter the construction phase, and they spoke against imposition of a defacto ceiling.
The most significant new direction, seemed to be strong support for Unmanned Air Systems.
Unmanned Aerial Systems. The Coast Guard would also benefit greatly from procuring UASs to support NSC operations. According to the GAO, “Coast Guard officials acknowledged that the lack of [cutter-based] unmanned aircraft would create a gap between the NSC’s actual and planned capabilities.” Dr. William Posage, program manager for the Coast Guard Research and Development Center, explained that the lack of cutter-based UAS technologies “left the NSC with an enormous surveillance gap in her ability to perform her mission.” Notably, the operational effectiveness of the NSC without a UAS component would “be comparable to that of the 378-foot Hamilton class high-endurance cutter,” the very program it was designed to replace with capability enhancements.
The Coast Guard has successfully tested the FireScout and ScanEagle UAS platforms, both of which would significantly amplify the NSC’s surveillance, detection, classification, and prosecution capabilities. Widely used for similar naval operations, they have successfully contributed to a handful of at-sea Coast Guard demonstrations. According to an assessment by the Coast Guard Office of Aviation Forces, the presence of two vertical take-off FireScout UASs aboard an NSC would enable the cutter to cover three times the presence radius of an NSC without them. Similarly, according to a Senate Appropriations Committee report, “[t]he Coast Guard has reported…that its long standing plan to add vertical take-off unmanned aircraft systems to the National Security Cutters would result in an estimated 95- to 225-percent increase in surveillance coverage within an 800 nautical mile radius of the cutter and an estimated 95-percent increase in the number of prosecutions achieved by the cutter.”
The Coast Guard’s FY 2017 budget justification states that funding for the NSC program will in part “establish sUAS [small UAS] capability aboard one NSC, to include engineering analysis, non-recurring engineering, procurement and installation of sUAS components, and system testing and certification.” Admiral Zukunft testified before the House Transportation Committee in March 2016 that this activity would involve a “down select” for a sUAS capability “that will go on board” the NSC. The NSC will amplify its aerial ISR capabilities dramatically with the longer-term integration of sUAS, while the sea service should continue to evaluate the vertical unmanned aerial vehicle (VUAV) platform.
This seems to indicate a two pronged approach, first a small UAS (Scan Eagle or something similar) in the near future and a continued interest in evaluating a vertical takeoff unmanned system like Firescout or potentially DARPA’s TERN.
All the UAS discussion centers on the National Security Cutters. There is no discussion of the possibility of using UAS on any other classes.