The Canadian government’s ability to track foreign vessels through the Arctic is woefully inadequate and the situation may get worse, according to a new report by the Auditor General of Canada.
Domestic surveillance of the region is incomplete, data that’s collected is insufficient, and there is no effective way of sharing information on maritime traffic, the watchdog said. Meanwhile, new icebreakers, aircraft, satellites and infrastructure required to fix these problems have been delayed to the point where some equipment likely will be retired before it can be replaced.
Naval News reports first deliveries under the French Navy’s “Système de Mini Drones aériens embarqués pour la Marine” (On-board Mini Aerial Drone System for the Navy), or SMDM program intended to provide small, fixed wing, unmanned aircraft to support their Offshore Patrol Vessels.
The DGA ordered 11 SMDMs at the end of 2020 to the SME Survey Copter, a subsidiary of Airbus Group, for an amount of 19.7 million euros, including procurement of systems and support services. Deliveries will be staggered until 2023…An SMDM is composed of two Aliaca UAVs from Survey Copter. The Aliaca is set to be deployed aboard the future offshore patrol vessels of the French Navy (both the POM and future Patrouilleur Oceanique) and surveillance frigates. Integration on the Mistral-class LHD is also considered.
These electric powered UAVs will fill essentially the same role as the Scan Eagles being used on the Bertholf class National Security Cutters (NSC). They are very nearly the same size. At first glance, at least, Scan Eagle appears more capable in every way.
Electric powered UAS are clean, quiet, and usually extremely reliable. The vessels that will be operating these UAS are all smaller than the 4,600 ton NSCs, the 1,300 ton POMs very much smaller.
It does sound like these will be Navy owned and operated, rather than operated by contractors, like the Coast Guard’s Scan Eagles.
Photos below were found in this French language report: “Marine nationale : une première capacité opérationnelle du SMDM espérée cet été”
Below is an Acquisitions Directorate (CG-9) statement regarding a Request for Information,
The Coast Guard released a request for information (RFI) Aug. 5 to determine the potential sources and the technical capability of industry to provide Group II and Group III unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), capable of deploying from Coast Guard cutters.
So what are “Group II and Group III unmanned aircraft systems (UAS)?” Wikipedia identifies the groups and provides examples.
- Group II: Maximum weight 21 to 55 pounds (25 kg); Nominal Operating Altitude <3500 feet above ground level (AGL) (1,067 meters); speed less than 250 knots
- Group III: Maximum weight <1320 pounds (600 kg); Nominal Operating Altitude < flight level 180 (about 18,000 feet or 5,488 meters); speed less than 250 knots
Notably the Navy’s Fire Scout is a Group IV UAS, so will not be considered. These groups do include both Insitu’s Scan Eagle, currently being used on National Security Cutters and their larger RQ-21 Blackjack. Also included are the V-Bat which has been tested on a Coast Guard WMEC and a number other vertical take-off and landing capable UAS.
The RFI appendix 1, entitled “Draft System Performance Specifications (SPS)” is 11 pages long and provides much more detail. I will mention only some highlights and these are only the minimums, there are also higher objective criteria:
- Endurance: 12 hours
- Dash speed: 70 knots
- Cruise speed: 50 knots
- Service ceiling: 3,000 feet
- Range: 40 nmi in clear weather, 35 in light rain
- The UA shall provide fully automated flight operations, including launch and recovery.
- The UA shall have space, weight, and power to concurrently operate: Electro-Optical (EO) sensor, Infra-Red (IR) sensor, AIS, VHF/UHF communications relay, aeronautical transponder, and non-visible IR marker. [KPP]
- At an operating altitude of 3,000 feet when the UAS is directly overhead of the target of interest (no slant range), the UA shall be acoustically non–detectable per MIL STD-1474 (series), Level 1 requirements (quiet rural area with the closest heavily used highway and community noises at least 2.5 miles away).
Notably there is no mention of radar or vidar, although Vidar is an EO sensor currently used by Scan Eagle UAS operating from National Security Cutters. There is also this,
The UA shall be capable of accepting modular payloads. Modular payloads are defined as payloads that can be replaced or interchanged with the previously-installed EO or IR payload(s) within one to two hours (elapsed time). Modular payloads may be government provided.
I did find this interesting, “The UA shall launch and recover while a static MH-65 is spotted with blades unfolded on the flight deck.”
The drawings contained in Appendix 2 indicate that these Unmanned Aircraft are intended for Bertholf class “National Security” cutters. Appendix 1 also sounded like these would be contractor operated, as are the Scan Eagles currently being deployed on National Security Cutters.
Since these specs are not too different from the Scan Eagles already being used on National Security Cutters, the Coast Guard may be just checking the competition to see what else is out there. On the other hand, perhaps some of the requirements may not be being met by the Scan Eagle UAS we are currently using. That the RFI provided only 17 days from issue to deadline for response, suggests the Coast Guard had already been been in communications with “the usual suspects.”
Coast Guard releases request for information for medium-range unmanned aircraft systems
The Coast Guard is interested in UAS that include fully automatic flight operations, have a minimum endurance of 12 hours and can be launched and recovered from a cutter flight deck. For Coast Guard mission success, UAS need to be capable of carrying a payload including electro-optical and infrared sensors and communications relay. Technological readiness level and degree of commonality and interoperability with existing Department of Homeland Security or Department of Defense programs are also of interest.
The full RFI is available here. Responses are due by 1 p.m. EDT Aug. 22.
For more information: Unmanned Aircraft Systems Program page
Below is a news release from General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc. The USCG has yet to select their own shore based unmanned air system. Note, there is as yet no indication Japan Coast Guard is purchasing this system. It appears more likely they are using contractor owned and operated systems as a step toward a more comprehensive JCG owned and operated system. UAS on USCG cutters are still currently contractor owned and operated.
GA-ASI Selected for Japan Coast Guard RPAS Project
Japan EEZ Surveillance Using SeaGuardian® RPA Scheduled to Begin in October
SAN DIEGO – 06 April 2022 – General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc. (GA-ASI), the global leader in Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems (RPAS), is pleased to be selected to support the Japan Coast Guard’s (JCG) RPAS Project. Operations will feature GA-ASI’s MQ-9B SeaGuardian® and begin in October 2022.
SeaGuardian will be used to conduct wide-area maritime surveillance to support JCG’s missions, which include search and rescue, disaster response, and maritime law enforcement. This project follows a series of successful JCG flight trials in 2020 that used SeaGuardian to validate the same JCG missions in accordance with Japan’s “Policy on Strengthening the Maritime Security Systems,” using unmanned aerial vehicles to perform maritime wide-area surveillance.
“We’re proud to support the JCG’s maritime surveillance mission with our SeaGuardian UAS,” said Linden Blue, CEO of GA-ASI. “The system’s ability to provide affordable, extremely long-endurance airborne surveillance with long-range sensors in the maritime domain is unprecedented.”
SeaGuardian features a multi-mode maritime surface-search radar with an Inverse Synthetic Aperture Radar (ISAR) imaging mode, an Automatic Identification System (AIS) receiver, and High-Definition – Full-Motion Video sensor equipped with optical and infrared cameras. This sensor suite enables real-time detection and identification of surface vessels over thousands of square nautical miles and provides automatic tracking of maritime targets and correlation of AIS transmitters with radar tracks.
SkyGuardian® and SeaGuardian® are revolutionizing the long-endurance RPAS market by providing all-weather capability and full compliance with STANAG-4671 (NATO UAS airworthiness standard). This feature, along with our operationally proven, collision-avoidance radar, enables flexible operations in civil airspace.
General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc. (GA-ASI), an affiliate of General Atomics, is a leading designer and manufacturer of proven, reliable, Remotely Piloted Aircraft (RPA) systems, radars, and electro-optic and related mission systems, including the Predator® RPA series and the Lynx® Multi-mode Radar. With more than seven million flight hours, GA-ASI provides long-endurance, mission-capable aircraft with integrated sensor and data link systems required to deliver persistent flight that enables situational awareness and rapid strike. The company also produces a variety of ground control stations and sensor control/image analysis software, offers pilot training and support services, and develops meta-material antennas. For more information, visit www.ga-asi.com
The Indo-Pacific Defense Forum brings us news of a Navy sponsored Maritime Domain Awareness program that may be very useful to the Coast Guard.
Recent successes include the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory’s (NRL’s) new program, called Proteus, to identify, query and filter maritime vessels based on user-defined criteria and the Defense Innovation Unit’s (DIU’s) international competition, known as xView3, to create machine learning models to locate and distinguish maritime vessels with synthetic aperture radar.
“Artificial intelligence combined with satellite imagery provides a new capability to detect suspected IUU fishing vessels that may otherwise elude U.S. and partner nations fisheries enforcement agencies. This increased maritime domain awareness can be shared with like-minded partner nations to enable them to protect their sovereignty.”
The NRL’s Proteus software, pictured, monitors sea vessels so stakeholders can “collaboratively discover and investigate suspicious and illegal maritime activity throughout the world in ways never before possible,” said Cameron Naron, the U.S. Maritime Administration’s maritime security director.
A description here by the US Naval Research Laboratory.
“PROTEUS is an exciting new U.S. government Maritime Domain Awareness (MDA) system providing a powerful array of MDA information and analysis tools,” said Cameron Naron, Director of Maritime Security, US Maritime Administration. “This system enables MDA stakeholders to collaboratively discover and investigate suspicious and illegal maritime activity throughout the world in ways never before possible.”
- Additional actions supported by PROTEUS include: Counter Illegal, Unreported, and Unregulated Fishing (IUUF)
- Maritime Protected Areas (MPAs)
- Search and Rescue (SAR)
- Critical Infrastructure Protection
- Environmental Protection & Response
- Maritime Law Enforcement
- Counter smuggling (drugs, weapons, money, people)
This could be of assistance to any nation attempting to counter Illegal, Unregulated, Unreported fishing, including the island nations of the Western Pacific, who are desperately short on resources to monitor their ocean assets.
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.
Modern War Institute alerts us to the limitations of US drone technology in the Arctic.
“America’s drones struggle to compete against Russia in the Arctic. In 2019, Russia’s equivalent of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency announced a drone capable of remaining airborne for four consecutive days in the Arctic. Russian state sources report their drones can navigate in the Arctic without the use of jammable satellite-based navigation instead employing the alternative GIRSAM system. While the processes behind this system are unknown, supposedly it does not rely on GPS satellites or those of the Russian-developed GLONASS. Not until 2021—two years later—did an American MQ-9A Reaper drone complete a flight navigating with satellites past the seventy-eighth parallel north. Additionally, Russia plans to build an Arctic drone reconnaissance base four hundred and twenty miles off the Alaskan coastline. By 2025, the ability of Russian drones to monitor air, surface, and subsurface activity will far outpace the United States in the Arctic region.”
This is certainly an area the Coast Guard is interested in and one where the Coast Guard’s assets can be of assistance.
Naval News reports on the Royal Navy’s increasing use of the Puma small Unmanned Air System (sUAS).
And we have this from Seapower, regarding a new night time imaging system.
The Puma is a system the Coast Guard has experimented with more than once, and the Canadians have also adopted it. My last look at this small UAS with comments on its suitability and links to previous posts here.
USCGC Hamilton with its EOSS (Electro Optic Sensor System) atop its bridge.
The Drive/The War Zone has a post regarding the Mk20 Mod1 Electro Optic Sensor System (EOSS) that is equipping National Security Cutters and Offshore Patrol Cutters in addition to the Navy’s newest destroyers and the new FFG. The post is in the form of an interview with a company rep.
We have talked about this system before here.
For such an inconspicuous system, it looks to be extremely useful. Other than using it as a firecontrol for ASuW and AAW, this system can be used for:
- Location and tracking a man overboard
- Channel position and navigation
- Detection and identification including looking for the IR signature of low profile vessels
- Naval gunfire support
- Safety check-sight
- Battle Damage Assessment
The Navy League’s Seapower website reports,
In a flight that originated from its Flight Test and Training Center (FTTC) near Grand Forks, North Dakota, General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc. (GA-ASI) flew a company-owned MQ-9A “Big Wing” configured unmanned aircraft system north through Canadian airspace past the 78th parallel, the company said in a Sept. 10 release.
A traditional limitation of long-endurance UAS has been their inability to operate at extreme northern (and southern) latitudes, as many legacy SATCOM datalinks can become less reliable above the Arctic (or below the Antarctic) Circle – approximately 66 degrees north. At those latitudes, the low-look angle to geostationary Ku-band satellites begins to compromise the link. GA-ASI has demonstrated a new capability for effective ISR operations by performing a loiter at 78.31° North, using Inmarsat’s L-band Airborne ISR Service (LAISR).
The 78th parallel lies more than 1200 nautical miles North of Kodiak. Getting any kind of air recon that far north, other than perhaps icebreaker based helicopters, has always been difficult.
Even our icebreakers have difficulty communicating. Satellite coverage at these high latitudes is spotty at best.
The ability to operate UAS in this environment could substantially improve our Polar Domain Awareness and serve as a communications relay for multiunit operations in the Arctic or Antarctic.
The high altitude capability of these aircraft also provides a far larger view than would be possible from a helicopters. The horizon distance from 45,000 feet is about 250 nautical miles.