Odd Ball ISR

A couple of posts from “The Drive” about aircraft that fit somewhere between High Altitude Drones and more common reconnaissance aircraft, sort of low budget U-2s. The first, “The U.S. Coast Guard May Be Flying a Unique Stealthy Spy Plane,” now almost five years old, suggest there might be Coast Guard interest in the second, “Unusual High-Altitude Spy Plane Appears at Special Operations Exercise.”

We know the Coast Guard has dabbled with these type aircraft for drug interdiction, and so far, the Coast Guard has not chosen an Unmanned system to fill this role.

“The Coast Guard’s MH-65 Helicopter Fleet Is Headed For Trouble” –Forbes + Maybe MQ-8Bs

US Coast Guard photo, by PAC Dana Warr

Craig Hooper, writing for Forbes, brings us a warning about the status of the H-65 fleet.

We knew the Coast Guard was in the process of replacing H-65s with H-60s because they have become increasingly difficult to support.

The Coast Guard has on-going life extension programs for both H-60s and H-65s, but the author thinks progress is too slow.

There are two issues here.

  1. Replacing land-based H-65s
  2. Having helicopters that can operate off the WMECs.

I would like to think the Coast Guard has a workable plan to replace the land based H65s but waiting way too long to start replacement programs does seem to be part of the Coast Guard’s DNA.

As to the helicopters for WMECs, Cooper notes,

“At sea, the Coast Guard’s 27 aged mid-sized cutters cannot fully support the larger footprint of an MH-60 platform. Delays in getting the Coast Guard’s highly anticipated Offshore Patrol Cutter into service means the old cutters will remain in the fleet—and needing Dolphin helicopters—for years.”

As I recall, the 13 WMEC 270s were designed to operate H-60s and Alex Haley looks like her facilities may be large enough as well. Certainly, operating H-60s from the 14 WMEC 210s is a non-starter.

The number of H-65s required solely to support 210 operations is relatively small. Judicious use and cannibalization could probably keep a few operational until the last 210 goes out of service.  That should happen about 2032.

If that is not possible, there is another alternative, UAVs. They could certainly operate Scan Eagle. Another possibility is Fire Scout.

The Navy is phasing out their MQ-8B VTOL drone in favor of the larger MQ-8C. Perhaps the Coast Guard could take over some or all 30 ot the B models and operate them from 210s. They might also be operated alongside H-60s from Bertholf class NSCs and Argus class OPCs. Although they probably cannot do armed overwatch (or maybe they could), they might be a better search asset than the H-65, given their greater endurance. This would also prep the Coast Guard to also participate in the MQ-8C at some time in the future.

PACIFIC OCEAN (Sept. 18, 2019) Sailors push an MQ-8B Fire Scout assigned to the Wildcards of Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron (HSC) 23 on the flight deck of the Independence-variant littoral combat ship USS Gabrielle Giffords (LCS 10).  (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Josiah J. Kunkle/Released)190918-N-YI115-1004

Interestingly, there is also a comment about the Coast Guard’s role in DOD’s Future Vertical Lift (FVL) Program,

“Replacement helicopters will be slow to arrive. The U.S. Coast Guard Commandant, Admiral Karl L. Schultz, says the Service is “looking fifteen or so years down the road at our rotary wing aviation program.” Unless the Coast Guard acts quickly to have their basic performance requirements folded into the Department of Defense’s Future Vertical Lift Initiative, a Coast Guard variant of whatever the Navy gets will likely take two decades—or more—to obtain and field.”

The FVL program is expected to produce at least two airframes, one to replace the H-60 and a smaller aircraft to replace the Army’s scout helicopters.

Thanks to Paul for bringing this to my attention. 

“Special Operations C-130 Hits Target With A ‘Rapid Dragon’ Pallet-Dropped Cruise Missile” –The Drive

What may be a game changing technique, is being developed that could provide a new role for the Coast Guard’s aviation arm in any future major near peer conflict. 

Coast Guard Aircraft at War

During World War II, we all probably know that the Coast Guard surface forces had a strong record of augmenting the US Navy in anti-submarine warfare and amphibious assault operations.

Coast Guard aviation’s contribution was considerably less significant. They continued to do SAR and flew anti-submarine patrols. By the end of the war, there was at least one Coast Guard squadron dedicated to anti-submarine patrols, but while generally aircraft were more successful than surface vessels against submarines, sinking about 400 U-boats, more than half of all the U-boats destroyed during WWII, all Coast Guard submarine sinkings were done by surface vessels.

During the Vietnam war, when the Coast Guard deployed 82 foot patrol boats and High Endurance Cutters off the coast as part of Operation Market Time, and buoy tenders serviced aids in Vietnamese waters, the Coast Guard’s aviation contribution to the war was limited to exchange pilots serving with the DOD units. Coast Guard aircraft supported LORAN stations that were vital to the war effort, but I have not heard of any Coast Guard aircraft participating directly in the Vietnam War.

During the first Iraq War, I seem to recall some Coast Guard aircraft assisted TRANSCOM with logistics. In addition, Coast Guard HU-25s monitored pollution that resulted from Iraqi sabotage of Kuwaiti oil facilities.

Generally, Coast Guard aircraft have played little or no role in America’s wars. It is not too surprising since warplanes tend to be specialized.

That may be changing. 

“Bomb Bay in Box”

The Air Force has been making rapid progress on a system that would allow cargo planes, including C-130s and perhaps C-27Js and C-144s to become cruise missile carriers. (An earlier test reported here.)

The system is roll-on/roll-off and requires no integration with the aircraft. 

Interestingly the most recent test appears to have targeted a maritime target. 

We certainly are not likely to see even Air Force transports doing this sort of thing routinely unless it is a truly big war or at least the desire is to launch a devastating number of missiles in single massive assault. 

Surprisingly, Coast Guard aircraft might be seen as the best transports to do this sort of thing, since their Minotaur systems provide the possibility of updating targeting information with organic sensors and doing post attack battle damage assessment if the environment permits. 

Coast Guard aircraft use becomes more likely if the conflict is worldwide, Air Force transports are otherwise engaged, and a nation, or nations, in the Western Hemisphere decides to take advantage of US distraction and attack an ally. 

It might also happen, if there is a wartime decision to sink all hostile controlled shipping. (That might follow a warning to masters to intern the ships within a reasonable time period.)

Thailand Buys AT-6 for Coast Guard Type Missions

Defense News reports that Thailand has become the first international customer for the Textron Beechcraft AT-6 light attack aircraft.

Thomas Hammoor, president and CEO of Textron Aviation Defense, said in a statement that the Royal Thai Air Force selected the Beechcraft AT-6 to conduct a broad array of missions in support of border security as well as anti-smuggling, counternarcotics and anti-human trafficking operations.

This is basically the same aircraft Coast Guard aviators train on before they get their wings, but with upgrades. I can’t help but think something like this or the similar Embraer A-29 Super Tucano could handle a lot of ISR missions more economically than what we are using now.

They could be used to scout for D7 Webber class FRCs doing drug or migrant interdiction and provide shots across the bow and over-watch in lieu of a helicopter.

The Washington DC air intercept mission in particular comes to mind. Local searches for overdue boats is another possibility. As you can see these aircraft support integrated electro-optical sensors.

An AT-6 Beechcraft is on display at the 2021 Dubai Airshow. (Agnes Helou/Staff)

Armed, these could also provide a response to terrorist attacks. My earlier ramblings on Coast Guard aircraft missions here.

“PteroDynamics Secures Contract with US Navy to Deliver Cargo VTOL Aircraft” –News Release

Below is a news release from PteroDynamics.

This looks like it might be an interesting aircraft type to operate from cutters. If it can carry cargo it can also carry sensors.

A small, unmanned version might provide patrol boats with search and identification capabilities currently available only to much larger cutters.

A larger version might replace helicopters while providing greater range and speed.

An even larger version, operating from shore or the largest cutters, might combine both search and rescue functions now provided by fixed wing search aircraft and rotary wing rescue aircraft. Combining those functions probably should be a long term Coast Guard objective. Not that the Coast Guard can fund manned aircraft development, but it seems likely the capability will be developed.

Apparently the Navy thinks the concept is promising enough to put at least some money into small prototypes.

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo.–PteroDynamics, an aircraft design and manufacturing company that develops innovative vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) aircraft, is today announcing it has secured a contract with Naval Air Warfare Center Aircraft Division (NAWCAD) to deliver 3 VTOL prototypes for the Blue Water Maritime Logistics UAS (BWUAS) program.

“Our design is well suited for operations on ships where windy conditions and tight spaces challenge other VTOL aircraft during takeoffs and landings.”

In 2018, Military Sealift Command and Fleet Forces Command identified a need for the United States Navy to develop a capability to autonomously deliver cargo with an unmanned aerial system (UAS) to and from ships at sea. Their analysis found that 90% of critical repair cargo delivered at sea by helicopters and V-22 aircraft weighed less than 50 pounds. A VTOL UAS can fill this critical need and free the manned aircraft to perform other higher priority missions.

“We are honored to be selected for this important project,” said Matthew Graczyk, PteroDynamics’ CEO. “This contract is the start of an important partnership, and we look forward to delivering the prototypes to NAWCAD.”

“This is an exciting milestone for our distinctive VTOL aircraft,” added Val Petrov, PhD, PteroDynamics’ founder and CTO. “Our design is well suited for operations on ships where windy conditions and tight spaces challenge other VTOL aircraft during takeoffs and landings.”

“Using unmanned, autonomous aircraft for delivery of these critical payloads is an important capability for the Navy to have,” said Blue Water’s project lead, Bill Macchione. “The innovative design of PteroDynamics offers significant potential for both military and civilian missions.”

About PteroDynamics

PteroDynamics is an aircraft design and manufacturing company that has developed a novel VTOL aircraft design that folds its wings during flight to transition between rotorcraft and fixed-wing configurations. Protected by three issued and five pending U.S. and international patents, Transwing® aircraft have improved controllability in takeoff and landing and typically require 1/3 of the ground footprint as compared to other aircraft with the same wingspan. Transwing®’s clean aerodynamic shape also allows it to fly faster and further than competitive designs. PteroDynamics is venture-backed by Kairos Ventures.

About NAWCAD

NAWCAD conducts research, development, test, evaluation, and sustainment for all United States Navy and United States Marine Corps aircraft and aircraft systems. Its diverse workforce of more than 10,000 military, civilian, and contractor engineers, scientists, testers, and other professionals support an evolving battlespace through research, development, test, and evaluation of both fielded and not-yet fielded naval and marine corps platforms and technology. Headquartered in Patuxent River, Maryland, the warfare center collaborates across its sites in St. Inigoes, Maryland; Lakehurst, New Jersey; and Orlando, Florida to ensure America’s warfighter always goes into conflict with significant advantage.

Contacts

Kayla Jones
Media@PteroDynamics.com

 

“Coast Guard awards hull contract as part of MH-60T sustainment effort” –CG-9

Below is a news release from the Acquisitions Directorate, CG-9. This is how the Coast Guard intends to keep the H-60s going until the “Future Vertical Lift” aircraft arrive. Also looks like the H-60, which have already been with the Coast Guard for 30 years, could continue in service for another 30. 


The Coast Guard today awarded a contract to Sikorsky Aircraft Corporation of Stratford, Connecticut, for new H-60 helicopter hulls as part of a program to sustain existing MH-60T helicopter hulls reaching the end of their service life. The indefinite-delivery, indefinite-quantity contract extends through April 2025 and has a potential value of $850 million.

As part of the contract award, the Coast Guard placed an initial order for 25 new hulls. The initial order, with a total value of nearly $207 million, includes non-recurring engineering costs, which enables Sikorsky to produce the hulls in the Coast Guard MH-60T configuration. The first three hulls will be used for validation of Sikorsky’s production processes and Coast Guard hull assembly procedures before moving to full rate production of the next 22 hulls. Delivery of the first new hull is anticipated in early 2023, with subsequent hulls scheduled for delivery at approximately one per month starting in late 2023.

The Coast Guard’s H-60 helicopters have been in service since 1990, and the first helicopters in the fleet are set to reach their 20,000-hour service life limit in 2023. The new hulls being delivered under this contract will replace the hulls in the legacy airframes and provide an additional 20,000 flight hours of service. These new hulls, combined with existing programmed service life extension activities, will enable the Coast Guard to align operations with the timeline for future fleet recapitalization in conjunction with the Department of Defense’s joint Future Vertical Lift program. The service plans to complete the program on a one-for-one basis as the existing helicopters reach their maximum flight hours, thereby maintaining the fleet size of 45 helicopters.

Hull replacement is just one component of the MH-60T sustainment effort. In addition to hull replacement, replacement of select dynamic components, such as main rotor blades, as well as full replacement of electrical wire harnesses will take place. Aircraft production – assembly of the hulls, installation of dynamic components, and wire harness replacement – will be completed at the Coast Guard Aviation Logistics Center in Elizabeth City, North Carolina.

For more information: MH-60T Sustainment program page

“Coast Guard delivers ninth Minotaur-missionized HC-144 to fleet” –CG-9

CGNR 2310 departs for its second test flight after completing Minotaur missionization. It is the Coast Guard’s ninth HC-144B Ocean Sentry outfitted with both Ocean Sentry Refresh modifications and the Minotaur mission system. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Aviation Engineering Warrant Officer 3 Randy Jopp.

The Acquisitions Directorate, CG-9 reports,


The Coast Guard accepted delivery of its ninth HC-144B Ocean Sentry medium range surveillance aircraft outfitted with both the Ocean Sentry Refresh (OSR) modifications and the Minotaur mission system Dec. 16, 2020. Modifications to CGNR 2310 were completed at the Aviation Logistics Center in Elizabeth City, North Carolina. The aircraft will be based at Coast Guard Air Station Miami.

The OSR project upgrades the aircraft with a new flight management system, which manages communication control, navigation and equipment monitoring. After the OSR upgrade is completed, each aircraft is redesignated as an HC-144B.

Minotaur integrates installed sensors and radar and provides dramatically improved data fusion as well as information processing and sharing capabilities.

Completion of missionization and upgrade of a 10th HC-144 is scheduled for June 2021. The service plans to upgrade each of the service’s 18 HC-144s by 2024.

For more information: HC-144 program page and Minotaur program page

New Minotaur operator workstations are being installed on all HC-144Bs. Minotaur provides dramatically improved data fusion and integrates installed sensors and radar. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Aviation Engineering Warrant Officer 3 Randy Jopp.

Canada Receives First of 16 C-295 SAR Aircraft

The first C295 lands at 19 Wing, Canadian Forces Base Comox, in British Columbia (Copyright Garry Walker, all rights reserved)

Dmitry Shulgin reports the arrival of the first of a fleet 16 SAR aircraft for the Royal Canadian Air Force.

We reported the award of this contract back in 2016. As noted at that time,

The deal means Airbus will supply 16 C295s to replace six de Havilland Canada CC-155 Buffalos and 13 CC-130H Hercules at four bases spread across Canada, providing search and rescue services from the Arctic to the southern border with the USA.

This aircraft, the Airbus C-295, is in much the same class as the 14 USCG C-27Js. It is the big brother of the Coast Guard’s C-144s which are Airbus C-235s.