“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.

“French Navy to Test SOFRESUD’s IPD aboard its PAG Ships” –Naval News

Naval News reports,

An Intuitive Pointing Device (IPD) will be installed and tested aboard one of the French Navy’s PAG type patrol vessels.

We talked about this device earlier, I thought it might be used for more than just its designed purpose, perhaps even replacing our alidades.

I wanted to provide the video above, that explains some of the features of the device and better shows how it is installed.

The PAG vessels referred to in the report all operate in the Western Hemisphere, based in Martinique and French Guyana, so there is a good chance Coasties will have an opportunity to see this system, and discuss their use with their French counterparts.

According to the video the device is currently used by nine different navies, those of the UK, France, Italy, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Malaysia, Morocco, Korea, and Norway, so we might have other opportunities to take a look at it.

French Navy Guyana-based Light Patrol Vessel PLG La Confiance is Now on Active Duty

French Navy PLG light patrol vessel La Confiance in combined anti-drug training with US Coast Guard Cutter Winslow Griesser. French Navy picture.

 

Coast Guard Commander Craig Allen talks about challenges with national security cutter connectivity.

HMAS Success (AOR-304) refuelling probe goes in for a hook-up with the US Coast Guard Cutter USCGC Waesche (WMSL-751) as the Royal Australian Navy Auxilliary Oiler Replenishment Ship conducts a dual RAS (Replenishment at Sea) off the coast of Hawaii during the Sea Phase of Exercise RIMPAC 2014, 19 July 2014. (RAN Photo by Leading Seaman Brenton Freind RAN)

The 8 Aug. 2019 US Naval Institute podcast features Cdr. Craig Allen, currently XO of USCGC Waesche discussing the topic of his winning USNI Coast Guard Essay contest.

Despite the title, connectivity on other Coast Guard platforms was also discussed.

The discussion on cutter connectivity doesn’t actually start until about time 10:05. Earlier in the podcast they talk about the Midshipmen and Cadets Essay Contest (deadline 31 Oct. 2019).

He mentions specifically difficult to share UAS data and images. Even so it sounds like the most significant difficulty is that operational data is crowding out administrative data that now can no longer be done offline. 

Sounds like there are three paths that might be pursued that might ease the situation.

First of course is to increase band width, but if that were easy I presume it would have already been done.

There was not discussion of tactical data links, like Link 16, but this is one way to a common shared tactical picture. Reportedly Link16 “supports the exchange of text messages, imagery data and provides two channels of digital voice (2.4 kbit/s and/or 16 kbit/s in any combination).” I am pretty sure the NSC has Link 16, but most Coast Guard units including Webber class, aircraft, and District and Area Commands do not. Moving the tactical information to data links could free bandwidth for administrative tasks. In addition if we ever want our district and area commands to be able to call on DOD assets to respond to a terrorist attack, having access to data link could make it a lot easier.

Third, it sounds like we may have shot ourselves in the foot by eliminating previously acceptable ways to handle administrative matters. Sounds like we are forcing operational units to make it easy for administrative support units, instead of the other way around, as it should be. The extreme measures he describes as required to get the job done should be an embarrassment to the Coast Guard. The administrative system worked before internet. It can work without it. There are ways around these problems.

“Connectivity Maketh the Cutter” –USNI

In the August 2019 issue of US Naval Institute Proceedings, their annual “Coast Guard focused” issue, you will find the three prize winning Coast Guard themed essays. First prize went to Cdr. Craig Allen, USCG. The essay contrasts the promise of Networked assets, that was a major feature of the Deepwater Program and still being touted, with the disappointing reality he sees in the actual implementation.

Put bluntly, in the past several years cutter connectivity has climbed in urgency from concern to crisis. The negative impact of poor connectivity on current mission execution already is cause for alarm, but the more important concern is the constraint it will place on the Coast Guard’s ability to shape future operations.

The whole essay is well worth the read.

The common operational picture promised is no where to be found.

As I have been pointing out since at least 2011 (also here), there is no reason our units should not have Link 16. The Navy puts it on helicopters, and I believe on the 85 foot MkVI patrol boat, so it would certainly fit on Coast Guard patrol boats, fixed wing aircraft, and our helicopters. It would improve interoperability not only with other Coast Guard units but also other US armed forces and Allies. It is a proven, widely used system. Link 16 would be very useful if we ever do become part of the US Fleet’s distributed lethality or if we need to call in Navy assets to assist the Coast Guard.