“GA-ASI Flies MQ-9 in the Canadian Arctic” –Seapower

General Atomics Aeronautical Systems’ MQ-9A “Big Wing” UAS flew in the hostile climate of the Canadian Arctic. GA-ASI

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.

“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 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.

“British Army drone to fly over English Channel to monitor migrant boats” –Independent

Thales Watchkeeper WK450

Like the US Coast Guard, the UK Border Force conducts Alien Migrant Interdiction Operations. They are reportedly getting some assistance from the British Army in the form of Unmanned Air Vehicles (UAV) being used to patrol the English Channel.

The UAVs are Thales Watchkeeper WK 450s (manufacturer’s brochure here) an improved version of the Israeli Elbit Hermes 450 with the addition of a dual-mode synthetic aperture radar and ground moving target indication system, providing all weather target acquisition.

The Watchkeeper program has not been cheap, about 1.2 billion pounds to provide and support 54 drones, and it has had its problems. They were supposed to have been operational in 2010, but apparently only reached Initial Operational Capability in 2014. Five have crashed. Regarding the current fleet,

“45 Watchkeeper airframes were in service as at 23 July 2020. 13 have flown in the past 12 months and 23 have been in storage for longer than 12 months. Of those flying, 10 have been operated by the Army from Akrotiri in Cyprus and Boscombe Down in Wiltshire, three have been used for test and evaluation. The airframes in storage are held at specific, graduated, levels of readiness. This is commensurate with practices used on other Defence capabilities and assets.”

The airframes are:

  • Length: 19.69 ft (6 m)
  • Span: 34.45 ft (10.5 m)
  • Engine: Winkel rotary, 52 hp
  • Max Speed: 95 knots
  • Operational Radius: 200 km; 108 nm (Line of Sight)
  • Endurance: 16+ hours
  • Service ceiling 18,045 feet (5,500 m)

This means, it is about half the size of the familiar MQ-1 Predator, also a bit slower and their service ceiling is lower.

The British Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) has selected Israel’s Elbit to demonstrate the capabilities of their larger Eblit Hermes 900 UAVs. which has capabilities similar to those of the MQ-1. Meanwhile the RAF is also flying surveillance over the English Channel. 

“The Coast Guard Needs to Listen—Acoustically” –USNI

Source: WOODS HOLE OCEANOGRAPHIC INSTITUTION

The US Naval Institute Proceedings has an article recommending that the Coast Guard exploit acoustics to enhance its Maritime Domain Awareness.

The author provides some examples of how acoustics have proven this capability in the past.

Using SOSUS,

“In 1961, the Navy successfully tracked the USS George Washington (SSBN-598) during her transoceanic voyage from the United States to the United Kingdom, demonstrating the ability to acoustically track vessels over global distances.”

It has found a limited application within the Coast Guard,

The Coast Guard already is using passive acoustic monitoring to autonomously detect critically endangered North Atlantic right whales and notify nearby mariners. Despite the program’s success, it has not expanded beyond the single Coast Guard facility in Woods Hole, Massachusetts. Leveraging this remote-sensing ability would allow the Coast Guard to reduce its reliance on expensive aircraft patrol hours while providing the same level of service:

It apparently could have been used to monitor fishing activity.

 “A series of experiments supported by the Navy, Coast Guard, and National Marine Fisheries Service were conducted from 1992 to 1995 that explored the possibility of using SoSuS to track vessels fishing illegally. The experiment was a resounding success—results showed that SoSuS could be used to detect, identify, and monitor (this link is to a 468 page pdf — I did not see the article in question–Chuck) individual driftnet and trawling fishing vessels in the Bering Sea and northern Pacific Ocean. Despite promising results, the service failed to move to an acoustic-based enforcement approach.”

While I can find fault with the article, the author’s main thrust that the Coast Guard is not exploiting a part of the spectrum that could help maintain a picture of what is happening offshore is certainly true. Because we no longer have sonar or ASW expertise, we no longer have a window into what acoustic sensors have to offer.

While probably true that the Coast Guard might be able to establish acoustic surveillance over limited areas of special interest, if we are going to have a comprehensive system, we would likely have to ride the Navy’s coat tails.

A Navy system that listens for submarines could also listen for trawlers. It could detect vessels that have turned off their AIS. It might cue us that a terrorist controlled vessel is headed for a US Port; or that a merchant or fishing vessel is laying mines; or that a vessel is doing clandestine monitoring of our submarine operations.

This is also another way to track and identify vessels that may be illegally dumping.

This could even help with SAR. When I was an 8th District RCC controller in the early 70s, we had a tanker explode offshore, only we did not know that it had happened for several days. The day it happened we got a report of smoke. I sent an aircraft to investigate, but we found nothing but the smoke. Smoke was not uncommon, given all the offshore oil wells that flared gas. A few days later we got a report of a missing tanker. We searched and ultimately found its mast above water. It had been cleaning tanks closer to shore than it should have been, and had had a catastrophic explosion that ripped through 25 of its 27 cargo tanks. An acoustic monitoring system would almost certainly have picked that up. Anytime a ship sinks, the collapsing of bulkheads as air filled compartments are crushed should also be heard.

As the author points out, and as we have mentioned many times here, towed arrays on cutters could help us locate low profile drug smuggling vessels (drug subs).

 

“General Atomics SeaGuardian UAV To Conduct Validation Flights For Japan Coast Guard” –Naval News

GA-ASI Concludes Successful Series of MQ-9 Demonstrations in Greece

Naval News reports that the Japanese Coast Guard will be testing the General Atomic SeaGuardian beginning in mid-September. There was another demonstration in Greece a few months ago.

“The purpose of the flights is to validate the wide-area maritime surveillance capabilities of RPAS for carrying out JCG’s missions, including search and rescue, disaster response, and maritime law enforcement. The flights are expected to run for approximately two months and will include support from the Japan Maritime Self Defense Force (JMSDF) at its Hachinohe base in Aomori Prefecture.”


The SeaGuardian system will feature a multi-mode maritime surface-search radar with 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….The featured Raytheon SeaVue surface-search radar system provides automatic tracking of maritime targets and correlation of AIS transmitters with radar tracks.

Maybe we ought to ask if we could send an observer.

“Navy Frigate (FFG[X]) Program: Background and Issues for Congress,” Updated June 8, 2020, CRS

The Congressional Research Service has updated their analysis of the FFG(X) program. You can view the 38 page pdf here.

The FFG(X) equipment lists, which you might be better able to see here constitutes a list of possibilities for upgrades to the Polar Security Cutters, Coast Guard National Security Cutters, and Offshore Patrol Cutters.

 

Emerging Unmanned Air System Technologies

The unmanned air system (UAS) market is rapidly expanding and innovation has been rapid. The Coast Guard is just entering the field. Current plans are to provide ScanEagle UAS on all Bertholf class National Security Cutters (NSC) and all Argus class Offshore Patrol Cutters OPC). There is also an intention to procure long range, long endurance land based UAS for maritime domain awareness.

So far there is no indication of a decision to procure UAS for smaller vessels (like WPBs or WPCs) or for sectors or air stations for use in support of local Search and Rescue (SAR) or Marine Environmental Protection (MEP) missions. Issues of operating UAS in domestic airspace are still unresolved, but the potential is too great not to find solutions. Ultimately they are likely to become ubiquitous in Coast Guard operations.

Meanwhile the Army is looking at procuring a new generation of UAS. They are testing four airframes, all are vertical take-off.

Three of the contenders – Arcturus UAV’s Jump 20, L3 Harris Technologies’ FVR-90, and Textron’s Aerosonde HQ – share a similar configuration, something we’ve never seen on a full-size manned aircraft. Each of them has wings and a pusher propeller in back for forward flight, but also quadcopter-style mini-rotors for vertical takeoff and landing. The fourth, equally unconventional design is Martin UAV’s V-Bat, a “tail-sitter” that has a single large fan for both vertical and forward flight, changing from one mode to the other by simply turning 90 degrees.

The potential to operate these from small spaces is obvious and with autonomous take-off and landing it is likely training for operators may not be too demanding, as the Coast Guard will one day, hopefully, move to providing their own operators for Coast Guard owned systems.

There is even emerging technology that may allow autonomous landing on moving ships.

“One of the technologies we’ve been looking at is very simple, but will help in the landing of our UAVs,” Venable said. “It’s an optical landing system by Planck Aerosystems that uses something like a QR code that is about 3 feet square, and the aircraft scan it, locks on and lands on it.”

 

Phone based Data Link?

A Beechcraft AT-6B Wolverine experimental aircraft flies over White Sands Missile Range, N.M., July 31, 2017. Aircraft like the AT-6B and Embraer A-29 Super Tocano provide close-air support to U.S. allies and partners and can also be outfitted with commercial off-the-shelf command and control units like the Airborne Extensible Relay Over-Horizon Network, or AERONet, increasing their combat effectiveness. (U.S. Air Force photo by Ethan D. Wagner)

AirForceMag.com has an article about the purchase of four light attack aircraft that contains an intriguing little side note:

AEROnet is a fledgling air-to-air and air-to-ground radio system that would let the U.S. and foreign militaries share video, voice, and chat communications as well as command and control via tablets, smartphones, and mobile apps for less than $500,000.

Secure communications between Coast Guard units and other armed services, particularly in the case of a rapidly developing terrorist attack, has been one of my regular concerns. This goes back to an exercise I planned and supervised some time ago. We had two Air Force aircraft included in a counter terrorism exercise, but when they got on scene we could not effectively identify the target for them.

This system might be useful both within the Coast Guard and between the Coast Guard and other services. This lead me to look for more information “AERONet prototype could provide combat insight to allies.”

“The Airborne Extensible Relay Over-Horizon Network, or AERONet, digitally links friendly forces, providing them with their own location, the location of other friendly forces and real-time enemy movement updates. It will be showcased to partner nations at the Bold Quest exercise in Finland this month. AERONet is a version of systems already used by law enforcement to patrol borders and track and combat smugglers. First responders use similar systems while fighting wildfires in the mountain states.”

There is more here, “AEROnet Gets an Audience.”

Lt. Gen. Arnold W. Bunch, military deputy, Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Acquisition, dons the Airborne Extensible Relay Over-the-Horizon Network concept combat tactical vest with the help of Steve Brown from the Tactical Data Network Laboratory at Hanscom Air Force Base, Mass., Sept. 26, during Bunch’s tour of the Command, Control, Communications, Intelligence and Networks division. The Air Force Life Cycle Management Center’s Aerial Network Division at Hanscom will bring AERONet to production, after the Air Force Research Laboratory prototyped the system. It is designed to support U.S. and partner nation operations as a tactical data network, as outlined by the Chief Staff of the Air Force Gen. David L. Goldfein. (U.S. Air Force photo by Todd Maki)

“Coast Guard Expedites ScanEagle ISR Services for National Security Cutters” –SEAPOWER

A small unmanned aircraft system operator recovers an sUAS (Scan Eagle–Chuck) after a flight from Coast Guard Cutter Stratton in the South China Sea Sept. 16, 2019. The sUAS is capable of flying for more than 20 hours and has a maximum speed of about 60 mph. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Nate Littlejohn.

The Navy Leagues Seapower web site is reporting that the Coast Guard will have Scan Eagle UAV systems installed on all currently operational National Security Cutters by the end of 2020, and in addition that the systems will be installed on the Offshore Patrol Cutters.

There is a lot of significant information in this report. 

Contractors still control the UAVs.

“Insitu installs the UAVs and their launch-and-recovery equipment and ground-control stations on board the ships, he said. Insitu sends four-person teams to deploy with each ship. They operate the entire system once on board. The teams are fully embedded with their ship’s crew.”

The sensor package.

“A standard pack-out for a deployment is three ScanEagle UAVs, he said. The sensor systems include and electro-optical/infrared camera, a laser pointer, a communication relay, an Automatic Identification System interrogator and Vidar (visual detection and ranging, a surface search capability).”

The increased search capability.

Currier said that before deployment of the ScanEagle the NSC had a scan of 35 miles either side of the ship with its organic sensors.

“With ScanEagle on board, for good parts of the day, you’re up to 75 miles either side of the ship as you’re moving through the sea space,” he said. “ScanEagle is a game-changer.”

“We’ve effectively doubled the search area of a national security cutter,” Tremain said. “We’re he only company flying with Vidar, and we’re surveilling up to 1,000 square miles of open ocean per flight hour, and we’re identifying greater than 90% of the targets.”

You might think these would not be much of an improvement over a ship based manned helicopter, but in fact the helicopter would probably not be air borne searching more than four hours a day, while three Scan Eagles could conceivably maintain a watch 24 hour a day. Additionally a helicopters sensors are probably not as effective as the VIDAR on the Scan Eagle.

Using these for search rather than the helicopter, also means less wear and tear on the helicopter, and that the helicopter is more likely to be available when it is really needed.