As you may know, the Coast Guard is planning on procuring medium altitude, Long Range/Ultra Long Endurance (LR?ULE) Unmanned Air Systems to enhance Maritime Domain Awareness. I was surprised to find, there may be a contender I was not aware of, and it already has a US government customer, although who it is, is not clear at this time.
Defense News reports Northrop Grumman has proposed an optionally manned aircraft to meet an Australian Border Force maritime surveillance requirement. The plane, the Firebird, is a product of Scaled Composites
“Firebird is a medium-altitude, long-endurance aircraft with a 30-hour endurance, with a nominal payload. Chappel said the aircraft has been tested with more than 24 different intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance payloads, which can be swapped in 30 minutes. The initial customer is the U.S. government.”
Scaled Composites is a part of Northrop Grumman now, but originally it was Burt Rutan’s company. Rutan was known “for designing light, strong, unusual-looking, energy-efficient aircraft. He designed the record-breaking Voyager, which in 1986 was the first plane to fly around the world without stopping or refueling, and the sub-orbitalspaceplaneSpaceShipOne, which won the Ansari X-Prize in 2004 for becoming the first privately funded spacecraft to enter the realm of space twice within a two-week period. With his VariEze and Long-EZ designs, Rutan is responsible for helping popularize both the canard configuration and the use of moldless composite construction in the homebuilt aircraft industry.” Now Scaled Composites functions as Northrop Grumman’s Skunk Works.
Meanwhile the Navy is also procuring unmanned systems with a similar capability in the form of another Northrop Grumman system, the MQ-4C Triton, which is a high altitude system. Hopefully there will be a sharing of information, but inevitably Navy and Coast Guard interests differ. Still the systems might prove complementary.