Armed Drones: The Coast Guard’s Next New Frontier?–USNI Proceedings

Coast Guard air crews unhook a Fire Scout UAS during a test on the Coast Guard Cutter Bertholf near Los Angeles, Dec. 5 2014. The Coast Guard Research and Development Center has been testing UAS platforms consistently for the last three years. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Luke Clayton)

The Dec. 2017 issue of the US Naval Institute Proceedings magazine has an excellent article, by LCdr Craig Allen, Jr., USCG, considering the possibility of the Coast Guard employing armed drone, specifically to assume the airborne use of force (AUF) role.

He considers both the pros and cons of taking this step, and along the way makes a compelling case that it is not only feasible but probably also desirable.  Additionally he suggests that drones may allow the Webber class WPCs to employ AUF.

12 thoughts on “Armed Drones: The Coast Guard’s Next New Frontier?–USNI Proceedings

  1. Interesting suggestions from the article…I wonder if the drones would augment the existing helicopter fleet or virtually replace them across the service. If so, where will the HITRON pilots/snipers go? What will their new job responsibilities be? We seem to be moving at lightspeed with drone use while avoiding the discussion of the endangered species of pilots.

    Could drones do a better job than the current HITRON program? Maybe. But what if a drone misses a shot and rather than disabling a motor, kills a citizen of another country in international waters, sparking an international crisis? Who’s responsible? Is a human being operating the drone, or did the drone’s computer momentarily glitch? This isn’t a PC in the office we’re talking about. This is about people’s lives.

    • Don’t think there is any danger of Coast Guard pilots going away.

      You can’t necessarily assume the human sniper is a better shot than the drone. It may turn out the other way round.

      We have already had a man shot during an attempted disabling fire.

      • I’m not necessarily saying a human sniper is better…there’s just not enough experience and knowledge of robotic snipers to compare the two.

        But my point behind human pilots is this: If a drone can fly in the air longer and cheaper than a human can, wouldn’t it follow that human pilots will begin to be phased out altogether? Isn’t that already happening? Years ago, human pilots carried out ISR flights. Not anymore. Now, drones can effectively and efficiently carry out ISR AND ground strikes. There’s most of your military aviation right there. What’s left is transport and people moving. So if drones can carry out ISR and ground strikes, why wouldn’t they be able to fly in a straight line carrying stuff and people? Humans grow tired; drones don’t. Humans can only fly so long; drones can operate however long is needed. Humans need to be paid; drones don’t.

        That’s my point. Eventually, the incentive to use drones instead of human pilots will become overwhelming.

        I’m not trying to be an alarmist saying machines are taking over everyone’s jobs. But I don’t need to tell you there are people saying just that.

      • The man wasnt shot, but hit by fragments.
        At what point will the rules of war be changed so that if you take a life it must be a human doing it, and not a robot/A.I.?

      • No good way to kill your enemies has ever been totally rejected. We already have in manned systems taking lives–mines both on land and at sea–no human decision making involved other than where they go and when they are active.

        Gas was mostly unused in WWII for practical reasons. Both the Italians and the Japanese used it in limited cases against unsophisticated opponents.

        One of the biggest disasters of WWII resulted when allied ship loaded with poison gas exploded in Italy.

    • Two things to consider.

      1)Drone take up the space that a helicopter would use.
      2)Would a drone be able to provide situational awareness, and fire support for a boarding team?

      • I think what we are going to see at least initially is that there will be one helo and one UAS deployed on each cutter. Manned helos will no longer search, the UAS will do that. The manned helo will provide SAR, overwatch, and airborne use of force.

        Where the UAS will weapons might be very useful is for vessels too small to support a helo or when the helo is down.

      • I’m surprised that the USN/USCG hasnt deployed with the S-100 camcopter like everybody else has.

  2. I always have thought that light UAVs (i.e. Scan Eagle, S-100) don’t perform well in strong wind conditions.

    For small crafts (FRC) they are probably the only available option. But bigger ships should operate heavier systems, being the MQ-8B the bottom line.

    In both cases you should develop or stress standing doctrines for embarking several UAVs in each ship, much in the same way as in the 30’s when the number of embarked aircraft on aircraft carriers grew and grew reaching over 100 aircraft per aircraft carrier.

    I mean that a NSC should embark not just 1 HH-60 and 2 MQ-8B, but 1 HH-60 and maybe 6 MQ-8B (for example, the HH-60 in 1 side of the hangar and, in the other side, 1 MQ-8B in front the other on the hangar floor, 2 hanging from the hangar roof, 1 parked in front of the hangars doors across the flight deck and the other on the flight deck spot).

  3. An additional comment: why so many MQ-8B on a NSC? Just for keeping always two of them in the air, for covering a real big search area.

    • I am hoping perhaps there is enough room for two MQ-8C in addition to an H-60 or at least an H-65 on the NSCs.
      It would be good to have two UAS airborne so that they could search on either side of the ship’s trackline without having to cross over the ship’s track and duplicate a search area the ship would also have searched.

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