QinetiQ recently collaborated with MCA for assessing UAV capability for SAR missions (Credit: QinetiQ)
Naval News reports the UK’s Maritime and Coastguard Agency’s (MCA) experimentation with Small Unmanned Air Systems (sUAS).
While the USCG has started using sUAS aboard ship and has been experimenting with shore based larger UAS, it sounds like the UK is looking at a niche, the USCG may not have explored.
“Requirements include ability to search for a missing person or vessel up to 10 km away from shore in low-light, misty and/or windy conditions. According to the tender document, potential uses of the UAV also include pollution assessment and law enforcement support.”
A similar use by the USCG could mean equipping units down to the SAR station level with UAS. The UK has, of course, encountered the same problem the US has in providing a sense and avoid capability for its unmanned system to prevent airspace conflicts between manned and unmanned aircraft.
“The MCA vows to « address and remove the regulatory issues and barriers to allow Beyond Visual Line of Sight (BVLOS) flight in unsegregated and uncontrolled UK airspace.”
The US FAA has deconflicted use of private (hobby) drones by allowing virtually unrestricted use five miles or more beyond airports and at latitudes of no more than 400 feet above ground level. 400 feet might be adequate for this type of small UAS, in that it provides a horizon distance of over 20 miles.
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.
“…The service contract covers installation and deployment of sUAS for approximately 200 hours per 30-day operational patrol period.
“Installations of sUAS capability on NSCs are planned at a rate of about two per year. Total value of the contract including the seven option years is approximately $117 million.”
It does not say which airframe Insitu will be providing. They have more than one, but it is likely to be Scan Eagle which was the small UAS used by Stratton during the trials.
200 hours per 30 day operational patrol period might be 20 sorties of 10 hours each or 25 sorties of 8 hours, but in all probability it will include a few shorter flights to provide documentation and over-watch during boardings.
The Coast Guard is contracting out the operation and maintenance of the systems rather than training Coastguardsmen to perform these functions. Hopefully, in time that will change.
Also there is no reason these systems should not also operate off of smaller cutters and icebreakers. Operating from 210s should be relatively easy, although it might preclude operating a helicopter, and with a little engineering they could probably operate from Webber class WPCs.
If you want to trace some of the progress on this issue, here are some earlier posts.
3-View line drawing and dimensions of MQ-1B Predator UAV, – Department of the Air Force, Engineering Technical Letter (ETL) 09-1: Airfield Planning and Design Criteria for Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS), 28 Sept 2009
John Ferguson and Chris Thompson, Unmanned Aircraft System operators for AeroVironment, release a Puma All Environment UAS from the flight deck of the Coast Guard Cutter Healy during an exercise in the Arctic Aug. 18, 2014. (U.S. Coast Guard Photo)
Below can be seen the Mantis i45 sensor as installed on the Puma sUAS
Mantis i45 sensor
This might be a candidate for a sUAS to operate from the Webber class WPCs. I can see some useful scenarios, such as providing overwatch while doing a law enforcement boarding, but I still think we need something more capable of providing a more persistent and more wide-ranging search. Still a combination of a sUAS like this and the TALONS (Towed Airborne Lift of Naval Systems) might be very effective. The recovery methods I have seen so far, for this system, either landing on the flight deck of an icebreaker or landing in the water don’t seem satisfactory.
Still I would suggest we take a look at what the Canadians are doing. We might want to send an R&D rep who has participated in our previous examination of sUAS to ride one of these ships during the last half of a drug interdiction patrol, so they can get input from both the Canadians and the LEDET.