“RDC concludes Low Cost Maritime Domain Awareness Pilot Study” –CG-9

The 29RDC autonomous vessel underway during the Coast Guard’s unmanned surface vehicle demonstration Oct. 7 through Nov. 5 off the coast of Oahu, Hawaii.

Below is a story from the CG-9 website. It provides more specifics on the results than did my earlier post.

  • “…proved their capability to detect vessels in excess of a mile and in certain situations in excess of 4 miles.” That sounds a little disappointing, I would have expected more range, at least against larger targets.
  • “…the 29RDC was operated by RDC watchstanders in New London, Connecticut, demonstrating the vessel’s ability to be controlled from 5,000 miles away utilizing cellular service.” That would tend to indicate they were operated relatively close to shore.

Sounds like they learned a lot. The potential is there. It seems the Coast Guard spends very little on R&D. We probably ought to do more.


The Coast Guard Research and Development Center (RDC) Nov. 5 concluded a month-long evaluation of unmanned surface vehicles (USVs) to determine their ability to provide persistent maritime domain awareness (MDA) in remote areas of the ocean.

The focus of the evaluation was to explore how current and emerging technologies might support the Coast Guard’s many missions around the globe. The project showed that USVs with assorted sensor capabilities may be useful to complement organic Coast Guard aviation and surface assets in performing key operations in these regions, ranging from combatting illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing to conducting search and rescue and a full range of law enforcement missions.

Initial results revealed that commercially available USVs are capable of delivering some level of daytime MDA and can conduct 30-day endurance missions. Two USVs used for this evaluation – the wind-propulsion Saildrone and Watcher, a diesel/solar-powered cutter boat from Spatial Integration Systems – proved their capability to detect vessels in excess of a mile and in certain situations in excess of 4 miles.

This demonstration also highlighted the importance of developing and incorporating artificial intelligence and machine learning into future USVs. The sensors used in this demonstration captured significant amounts of data. To speed processing and limit expensive bandwidth consumption, it is invaluable for the USV to conduct onboard processing to the greatest possible extent, limiting transmitted data to only that which is actionable to operators, according to Cmdr. Blair Sweigart, the RDC researcher who served as the demonstration director. He said this ability is critical to USVs’ success in long endurance and MDA missions.

“This evaluation showed that using autonomous USVs for future persistent MDA efforts will likely require a layered solution. USVs like Saildrone are capable of performing MDA missions for up to a year without maintenance, but their low transit speed does not allow them to pursue a target of opportunity to collect more information,” said RDC researcher Scot Tripp, who served as project manager. “In contrast, the Watcher is only capable of 30 days endurance but has the capability of traveling at speeds over 30 knots. It can also be instructed to pursue a target upon detection for better imagery. A system where these USVs worked together could prove to be a valuable tool for future MDA capabilities,” Tripp explained.


The Watcher (left) and Saildrone in the operation area. U.S. Coast Guard photos.


Two of the USVs used in this demonstration were contractor-owned/contractor-operated, which is only one of the potential procurement models available for these types of vessels. The type of vessel and how it is being used may best dictate which acquisition mode is most efficient, Tripp said. The Saildrone routinely operates on a service-provider model, for example, but government-owned/government-operated USVs might also be used effectively.

The RDC pursued the efficacy of a government-owned/government-operated USV with the 29RDC, a 29-foot autonomous vessel based on the Coast Guard response boat-small II. With the 29RDC, service operators from junior enlisted boat drivers to senior officers were able to interactively plan and execute their own missions in real time. Additionally, the 29RDC was operated by RDC watchstanders in New London, Connecticut, demonstrating the vessel’s ability to be controlled from 5,000 miles away utilizing cellular service. These demonstrations provided exceptional feedback regarding potential operations using USVs: in concert with cutters and other boats as a force multiplier; performance of reconnaissance missions; search and rescue augmentation through autonomously executed search patterns; and screening recreational and commercial vessel traffic.

This demonstration also reaffirmed a whole-of-government interest in enhancing MDA. Participants included U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, Navy Research Laboratory, Office of Naval Research, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Scientific Advisors for the U.S. Navy, The President’s Intelligence Advisory Board and Congressional staffers.

The Coast Guard is also interested in USV testing to help better inform policy decisions as these vehicles become more numerous in the marine environment.

This demonstration was part of the Coast Guard’s pilot study of low-cost commercially available technologies that can enhance maritime domain awareness in Pacific regions, with the primary focus of monitoring (IUU) fishing.  A quick look report summarizing preliminary results from the demonstration can be found here. A full report is scheduled for completion mid-2021.

For more information: Research, Development, Test and Evaluation program page and Research and Development Center page.

“Seeing Below The Surface: Ladar Trials Promise Enhanced Vessel Safety” –Maritime Executive

Ladar allows Color Line’s officers to perform safe deviation from the set course, maximizing fuel efficiency without increased risk of grounding.

Maritime Executive reports that,

Norwegian operator Color Line has been trialing Ladar, a light-based laser technology anti-collision system designed to identify floating objects on or under the surface of the water, including drifting fishing nets, logs, containers and ice, as well as plastic and other flotsam.

Wonder if this might be useful in finding people in the water, especially in rough weather and at night?

“The system we tested was better at detecting smaller items than we had anticipated, but not as good on metal objects in still water.”

The reason for this: waves caused by wind increase disturbance in the water around an object, making it easier to detect. “This includes up to storm level winds,” Dokken confirms. “The more activity in the water, the better.”

Frequently we need to go close to shore to execute a rescue. This could conceivably allow us to get closer without running aground, than we would using charts alone.

Might also be useful for the Waterways Commerce Cutters that operate in rivers with shifting bottom contours.

Really the Navy and Marines should be interested in this too.

Sounds like a good project for the R&D Center.

“Metal Shark and Sea Machines to Supply New U.S. Coast Guard Autonomous Test Vessel” –DefenseMediaNetwork

“The welded-aluminum 29 Defiant craft is the latest product of Metal Shark’s “Sharktech Autonomous Vessels” division to be equipped with Sea Machines SM300 autonomous-command and remote-helm technology. The new vessel offers a full range of advanced capabilities including transit autonomy, collaborative autonomy, active ride control and collision avoidance, and remote control vessel monitoring.”

DefenseMediaNetwork posted a story about the acquisition of an optionally manned surface vessel for the Coast Guard’s Research and Development Center.

During exercises scheduled for October off the coast of Hawaii, the RDC team will test and evaluate the Sharktech vessel’s autonomous capabilities for their potential in supporting USCG surveillance, interdiction, patrol, and other missions.

“Coast Guard, DHS S&T Venture into Space with Polar Scout Launch” –CG-9

The Coast Guard Research, Development, Test, and Evaluation Program, in partnership with the Department of Homeland Security Science and Technology Directorate, launched two 6U CubeSats from Vandenberg Air Force Base, California, as part of the Polar Scout project. Photo courtesy of SpaceX.

The following is a release from the Acquisitions Directorate

Coast Guard Research, Development, Test, and Evaluation (RDT&E) Program, in partnership with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Science and Technology Directorate (S&T), today launched two 6U CubeSats from Vandenberg Air Force Base, California. The launch is part of the Polar Scout project to evaluate the effectiveness of space-based sensors in support of Arctic search and rescue missions. Knowledge gained from this demonstration will be used to inform satellite technology recommendations for many potential applications within the Coast Guard and across DHS.

Jim Knight, the Coast Guard deputy assistant commandant for acquisition, said in ceremonies leading up to the launch, “The Polar Scout project presents an opportunity to evaluate the most efficient way to ensure that the United States can project surface presence in the Arctic when and where it is needed while filling an immediate Search and Rescue capability gap in these remote areas.”

The CubeSats, dubbed Yukon and Kodiak, were launched into a low-earth polar orbit on a rideshare with other spacecraft from 17 different countries. This economical alternative to a costly single-mission launch ensured dozens of spacecraft from various organizations reached orbit. Success of the mission was due to public and private sector collaboration throughout the process, from developing the CubeSats to propelling them into space.

“In order to demonstrate, test and evaluate the viability and utility of CubeSats for Coast Guard missions, the Coast Guard RDT&E Program has partnered with DHS S&T to conduct on-orbit testing of CubeSats using the Mobile CubeSat Command and Control (MC3) ground network,” said Holly Wendelin, command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance domain lead.

Developed as a potential capability bridge between the current 20-year-old international search-and-rescue architecture and its future successor, “CubeSats serve as a much smaller, more cost-efficient solution that can be easily implemented over a short period of time. Each are only about the size of a shoebox,” said John McEntee, director of Border Immigration and Maritime at S&T.

In the 18 months leading up to the launch, DHS S&T handled the fabrication of Yukon and Kodiak, which are tailored specifically to detect 406 MHz emergency distress beacons. At the same time, the Coast Guard Research and Development Center (RDC) deployed two ground stations – one at the Coast Guard Academy in New London, Connecticut, and one at University of Alaska Fairbanks – using the MC3 architecture and network. The ground stations will receive all of the signals from the CubeSats during the demonstration.

DHS will begin testing and demonstrations using emergency distress beacons in the Arctic beginning in early 2019 and continuing through the summer. “The demonstrations will include downlinking 406 MHz emergency distress beacon data from the CubeSats using the deployed MC3 ground stations,” Wendelin said. “We will set the beacons off, the satellite should detect it and send signals back to the ground station.” The testing period is expected to provide critical knowledge on how CubeSat technology can be used to enhance Coast Guard and DHS mission performance.

The Polar Scout project is providing valuable insight on the process, cost and feasibility of acquiring and using organic satellites. The Coast Guard and DHS will use the knowledge gained from Polar Scout and the MC3 installs, market research and space mission design and assessments to develop satellite technology recommendations.

As Coast Guard missions become more challenging and complex, the use of small and inexpensive satellites has the potential for great impact. Potential uses for satellites include improving communication in the arctic environment, monitoring large areas for illegal activity and helping to locate persons lost at sea. Additionally, the use of satellites has the potential to reduce the time and resources spent on intensive aircraft searches as well as the risks associated with placing personnel in hazardous situations that only need sensors and communications on scene.

“Undoubtedly, the results and knowledge gained by the Polar Scout Satellite Project will lead to force-multiplying solutions for the Department, which is a big priority in this age of complex threat cycles,” said Bill Bryan, senior official performing the duties of undersecretary for the Science and Technology Directorate.

Through Polar Scout’s robust search-and-rescue satellite solution, the Coast Guard may be empowered to respond to maritime disasters with unprecedented speed, preserving lives and even cargo, along trade routes in the Arctic Circle.