“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.

“Hellenic Coast Guard Testing Tethered Aerostat for FRONTEX Mission” –Naval News

Aerostat being tested by the Hellenic Coast Guard for FRONTEX.

Naval News reports that the Hellenic Coast Guard is doing something of a 28 day comparison test between land based and Aerostat based surveillance systems on the island of Samos.

Putting a radar at 1000 meters should provide a radar horizon of about 70 nautical miles and allow detection of a 50 foot high target at up to 79 miles.

“IMSAR’s NSP-5 Radar Moving Into Production for RQ-21 Unmanned System” –Seapower Magazine

GULF OF MEXICO (Feb. 10, 2013) Members of the RQ-21A Small Tactical Unmanned Air System (STUAS) test team transport the RQ-21A across the flight deck of the amphibious transport dock USS Mesa Verde (LPD 19) after its first flight at sea. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Sabrina Fine/Released) 130210-N-NB538-195

The Navy League’s Magazine Seapower reports that “a synthetic aperture/ground moving target Indicator Radar Payload and has been given the prototype designation AN/DPY-2()” for the MQ-21 Blackjack.

The Coast Guard has always wanted their unmanned air system (UAS) to have a radar system and the Scan Eagle that the Coast Guard has contracted for has been tested with a radar from this manufacturer. I am not sure if Coast Guard Scan Eagles are radar equipped, but, if not, it appears that radar equipped small UAS are a definite possibility.

The RQ-21 Blackjack is, like the Scan Eagle, made by Boeing Insitu. It is heavier, 135 lb (61 kg) vs 48.5 lb (22 kg) max takeoff weight, with a correspondingly larger payload weight, but like the Scan Eagle it launches from the same launch and recovery systems.

The radar may be a bit large for Scan Eagle, but apparently not for the Blackjack.

The NSP-5 delivers high-performance capabilities despite its small size, weight and power characteristics. Commercially, the NSP-5 is available in a standard pod configuration that measures 5.4 inches (13.7 centimeters) in diameter and 45.3 inches (115 centimeters) in length, weighs 16 pounds (7.3 kilograms) and consumes 150 watts of power.

FY2019 Budget


US Capital West Side, by Martin Falbisoner

With a bit of help from a friend, the actual FY2019 budget documents were located:  “The Joint Explanation” and “The Conference Report.”

I found the Joint Explanation easiest to wade through. The Budget breakdown is found on pages 65 to 69 of the 612 page pdf.

Note in some cases I have rounded to the nearest $0.1M


Our total Coast Guard FY2019 budget is $12,015,921,000. This is $91,803,000 less than last year, but $577,720,000 more than the budget request.

The Operations and Support allocation is $7,808.2M. That is $434.9M more than last year (a 5.6% increase), and $215.1M more than requested.

I have provided information on the PC&I budget below including a complete list of line items that I was unable to provide before.

PROCUREMENT, CONSTRUCTION, AND IMPROVEMENTS (PC&I) $2,248.26M

Vessels and Boats

  • Survey and design:                      5.5M
  • In service vessel sustainment:   63.25M
  • National Security Cutter:              72.6M (Follow up on ships already funded)
  • Offshore Patrol Cutter:                  400M (Second of class + LLTM for third)
  • Fast Response Cutter: 340M (Six Webber class including two for PATFORSWA)
  • Cutter boats                                       5M
  • Polar Security Cutter:                     675M (First of class + LLTM for second)
  • Waterways Commerce Cutter:           5M
  • Polar sustainment:                            15M (Polar Star Service Life Extension)

—-Vessels Subtotal:  $1,581.35M

Aircraft

  • HC-144 Conversion/Sustainment:         17M
  • HC-27J Conversion/Sustainment:         80M
  • HC-1330J Conversion/Sustainment:   105M
  • HH-65 Conversion/Sustainment:           28M
  • MH-60 Conversion/Sustainment:         120M
  • Small Unmanned Aircraft:                        6M

—Aircraft Subtotal:  $356M

Other Acquisition Programs:

  • Other Equipment and System:                                               3.5M
  • Program Oversight and Managemen:                                    20M
  • C4ISR                                                                                    23.3M
  • CG-Logistics Information Management System (CG-LIMS):   9.2M

—Other Acquisitions Programs Subtotal:   $56M

Shore Facilities and Aids to Navigation:

  • Major Construction; Housing; ATON; and Survey and Design: 74.51M
  • Major Acquisition Systems Infrastructure:                                 175.4M
  • Minor Shore                                                                                      5M

—Shore Facilities and Aids to Navigation Subtotal:  $254.91M

The PC&I total, $2,248.26M, was $446.48M less than FY2018, but it was $361.51M above the budget request.

R&D was cut by almost a third. This is probably a place to spend more not less.

Reserve Training disappeared as a separate line item, so I can’t tell what happened there.

Also included in the new budget is $5M for the National Coast Guard Museum

Incidentally, the total amount appropriated for the polar security program includes $359.6M (FY2018 and prior) + $675M (FY2019), or $1,034.6M, of which $20M is for Long Lead Time Material for the second ship, and the remainder is for the first ship and other program-related expenses.

With Operations and Support up more than 5% over 2018 and Procurement Construction &Improvement (PC&I) over $2B for the second year in a row, this is the kind of budget we can live with. It just needs to keep happening.