Armed Drones: The Coast Guard’s Next New Frontier?–USNI Proceedings

Coast Guard air crews unhook a Fire Scout UAS during a test on the Coast Guard Cutter Bertholf near Los Angeles, Dec. 5 2014. The Coast Guard Research and Development Center has been testing UAS platforms consistently for the last three years. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Luke Clayton)

The Dec. 2017 issue of the US Naval Institute Proceedings magazine has an excellent article, by LCdr Craig Allen, Jr., USCG, considering the possibility of the Coast Guard employing armed drone, specifically to assume the airborne use of force (AUF) role.

He considers both the pros and cons of taking this step, and along the way makes a compelling case that it is not only feasible but probably also desirable.  Additionally he suggests that drones may allow the Webber class WPCs to employ AUF.

Interview with Commandant

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Federal News Radio has an interview with the Commandant. There is a short written summary here or you can listen to it on their page or above. Some interesting developments with regard to drug interdiction in the Eastern Pacific. Sea story about actual employment of a sea based Unmanned Air System.

Interestingly he again refers to Russia arming Icebreakers so I think perhaps we may see some movement to arm or at least make provision for arming our new icebreakers.

JPALS landing aid for Coast Guard?

US Navy Photo. JPALS tactical prototype

The Navy has already chose Joint Precision Approach & Landing Systems (JPALS) and BreakingDefense reports Raytheon is offering it to the Air Force and Army. Perhaps the Coast Guard should take a look. Like the Navy, the Coast Guard operates aircraft from moving ships, with perhaps even more  “pitch, roll, surge, sway, heave, yaw, and translation”

JPALS fills the role of a TACAN, giving bearing and range to the landing area, but does it with much greater accuracy, directing the aircraft to a 20 cm (7.8″) square area, using differential GPS. It does it all in any weather and zero visibility with very low probability of intercept and in an encrypted format by data link, minimizing the need for radio communications.

Every time we turn on TACAN we broadcast the position of ship. 

Potentially it can provide a autonomous recovery for aircraft and UAVs.

“What’s more, Raytheon is finishing development of a capability for JPALS to take over the flight controls and bring the aircraft in for an automated landing with no input from the pilot – or potentially with no pilot on board at all. That is why the Navy has contracted with Raytheon to put JPALS on its future MQ-25 carrier-based drone.”

Maybe our over-the-horizon boats could use it too.

LCS Progress, Coast Guard Implications

USS Independence (LCS-2)

USNI reports that the Navy is pushing harder than ever on getting the LCS mission modules operational. In wartime these systems would likely be used to upgrade cutters. Some of these systems might be applicable to Coast Guard’s NSCs and OPCs, including particularly UAS and ASuW systems, even in peace time, so they bear watching.

There is an interesting note that, “…Freedom also conducted its first Coast Guard helicopter landing on the flight deck earlier this year and hopes to do more interoperability testing with the Coast Guard going forward.” This suggest the Navy is at least thinking about sending LCS to assist the Coast Guard in its drug interdiction efforts.

 

Looking at “Land Based, Long Range/ultra-long endurance UAS”

Predator Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) flies on a simulated Navy aerial reconnaissance flight near the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson (CVN 70) off the coast of southern California on Dec. 5, 1995. The Predator provides near, real-time infrared and color video to intelligence analysts and controllers on the ground and the ship. This is the Predator’s first maritime mission with a carrier battle group. The UAV was launched from San Nicholas Island off the coast of southern California. DoD photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Jeffrey S. Viano, U.S. Navy.

The Coast Guard has issued a “Request For Information” (RFI) about Land Based, Long Range/ultra-long endurance UAS (unmanned aerial system). You can see it here. The CG-9 commentary about it is here. The Coast Guard is being pushed in this direction by the Congress, specifically by the House sub-committee that has oversight of the Coast Guard.

Note this seems to be directed specifically at drug interdiction rather than Maritime Domain Awareness of approaches to the US coast.

There is specific reference to the UAS operating beyond line of sight, so it will require both some degree of autonomy and satellite communications.

R&D Center on Healy

It looks like the Healy has been having an interesting voyage. They had aboard a team from the Research and Development Center that were aboard to try out some new technologies.

Here you will find a listing of what they hoped to do while aboard. Projects included.

  • 3-D Printing
  • NOAA buoy
  • Passive Millimeter Wave Camera
  • Oil Skimmer
  • Small Unmanned Aircraft System
  • MSST San Diego Dive Team in Cooperation with a Navy dive team
  • Unmanned surface and subsurface vehicles

A later post shows how it turned out–lots of photos. It is presented in reverse chronological order, August 6 to July 21, so you might want to read it from bottom up.

U.S. Coast Guard: Priorities for the Future–CSIS/USNI

The video above records an recent event, a “Maritime Security dialogue” presented by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) and the United States Naval Institute (USNI) featuring Admiral Paul F. Zukunft, Commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard, for a discussion on the “U.S. Coast Guard’s future priorities.”

Despite the title, don’t expect a recitation of Coast Guard priorities. Most of the material is familiar, but there were a few interesting comments, including some that might be surprising. A number of things the Commandant said here made news.

  • That the NSCs could be made into frigates.
  • That the Polar Icebreaker would cost less than $1B
  • His support of transgender CG personnel.

I’ll give a quick outline of what was talked about. At the end I will rant a bit about some of my pet peeves.

The Commandant’s prepared statement is relatively short beginning at time 2m45s and ending about 11m.

6m00 In our listing of missions, the Commandant said Defense Operations should be listed first. He noted that there are 20 ships chopped to Combatant Commanders including eleven  ships operating under SOUTHCOM.

Q&A begins at 11:00.

16m20s The Commandant noted there is a Chinese ship rider on a USCG cutter off Japan and that Coast Guard aircraft are flying out of Japan.

17m30s Boarder protection/drug interdiction

20m Called the OPCs “light frigates”

22m As for priorities the Commandant noted a need to invest in ISR and Cyber

23m Cyber threat.

24m Expect return to sea duty because of length of training.

26m30s “Demise of the cutterman”/Human Capital Plan–fewer moves–removed the stigma of geographic stability

29m25s Highest percentage of retention of all services–40% of enlisted and 50% of officers will still be in the service after 20 years

30m Law of the Sea. Extended continental shelf in the Arctic.

32m30s Need for presence in the Arctic.

36m ISR, 38m15s Firescout. An interesting side note was that the Commandant seemed to quash any possibility of using the MQ-8 Firescout. He noted when they deployed on a cutter 20 people came with the system.  He called it unoccupied but not unmanned.

40m Icebreakers

43m30s Comments on transgender members

45m15s Icebreakers–will drive the price down below $1B.

47m NSC as frigate–no conversations with the Navy about this. Performance of Hamilton.

49m50s Count the NSCs toward the 355 ship Navy.

50m30s Illegal migration and virulent infectious disease

53m35s CG training teams in the Philippines and Vietnam to provide competency to operate platforms to be provided by Japan. Two patrol boats going to Costa Rica. Other efforts to build capacity.

56m DHS is the right place for the CG.

The Commandant touched on a couple of my pet peeves, specifically

  • He called the OPCs “Light Frigates,” so why aren’t they designated that way? WMSM and WMSL are just wrong in too many ways.  Give our ships a designation our partners and politicians can understand. A WLB is a cutter and also a buoy tender. The OPC can be both a cutter and a light frigate. I have suggested WPF. Maybe WFF for the Bertholfs and WFL for the Offshore Patrol Cutters. If we want to be thought of as a military service, we need to start using designations that will be seen and understood as military.
  • He mentioned the possibility of including the Bertholfs in the 355 ship fleet total. Coast Guard combatants should be included when the country counts its fleet. No, the cutters are not aircraft carriers or destroyers, but the current fleet of about 275 ships includes about 70 ships that have no weapons larger than a .50 cal. These include eleven MCM ships and about 60 ships manned by civilian crews such as tugs, high speed transports, salvage ships, underway replenishment ships, and surveillance ships. Counting the Cutters as part of the National Fleet would raise  our profile as a military service. The Navy might not like it, but it does give a better idea of our actually available assets for wartime, which is the point of such a listing.