Dmitry Shulgin reports on the recent demonstration of the Maritime version of General Atomic’s MQ-9 Remotely Piloted Air System and its “Detect and Avoid” system held in Greece for European Defense Officials.
The Coast Guard has had a notional requirement for shore based Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) that goes back at least to the beginnings of the Deepwater program, two decades ago.
The most significant block to the wide spread use of UAS has been fear of mid air collisions with manned aircraft, because they could not “See and Avoid.” The General Atomic claims they have solved this problem with a Detect And Avoid (DAA) system.
The DAA system consists of an air-to-air radar integrated with Traffic Alert and Collision Avoidance System (TCAS II), and Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS-B). The DAA system enables safe flight of an MQ-9 in civil airspace, and can even detect air traffic that is not actively transmitting its position.
The Coast Guard has yet to procure a land based long duration UAS for Maritime Domain Awareness. Congress has been pushing the Coast Guard to pursue this capability. There have been some tentative steps, here and here. It appears there are now off the shelf options.
“Currently GA-ASI aircraft systems support the Italian Air Force, the UK Royal Air Force, the French Air Force, and the Spanish Air Force. The Ministry of Defence for the Netherlands has selected MQ-9 for the Royal Netherlands Air Force, and the Government of Belgium has approved Belgian Defense to negotiate the acquisition of GA-ASI’s MQ-9B. In early December, the Australian Government announced selection of MQ-9B for the Australian Defence Force under Project Air 7003. GA-ASI RPAS are operated by the U.S. Air Force, U.S. Army, U.S. Marine Corps, U.S. Department of Homeland Security and NASA.”
The equipment included in the Guardian version of the MQ-9 is impressive, in addition to High-Definition/Full-Motion Video Optical and Infrared sensors, it includes Raytheon’s SeaVue multi-mode, maritime surface-search radar that is claimed to provide continuous tracking of maritime targets and correlation of Automatic Identification System (AIS) transmitters with radar detections and an Inverse Synthetic Aperture Radar (ISAR) mode that facilitates classification of vessels which are beyond optical sensor range.
For the demonstration, GA-ASI partnered with SES, a leading satellite communications (SATCOM) operator and managed services provider, with over 70 satellites in Geostationary Orbit (GEO) and Medium Earth Orbit (MEO). SES provided the GEO satellite connectivity that enabled the MQ-9 to operate securely with a high capacity datalink, enabling real-time transmission of sensor data from the aircraft, and extending its effective operational range far beyond that of «line-of-sight» datalinks.
Meanwhile, the Navy is supposed to be deploying a fleet of MQ-4C Triton UAS to complement their new P-8 maritime patrol aircraft. Some will be based in Mayport, NAS Point Mugu, Hawaii, and Guam. If their “Board Area Maritime Surveillance (BAMS)” system provides comprehensive coverage of the US EEZ and the drug transit zones, and if they share their information with the Coast Guard, maybe we don’t need our own assets, I have my doubts. If not, perhaps it is time for a Request for Proposal?