“MQ-9B SeaGuardian Maritime UAV: Which Missions ? Which Customers ?” –Naval News

MQ-9B Seaguardian during the maritime capabilities demonstration flight over Southern California waters in September 2020. GA-ASI picture.

NavalNews reports on the Maritime version of the Predator UAV, the MQ-9B Seaguardian, including its sensors and market success.

In addition to different sensors, this model is different from the MQ-9s that the Coast Guard has flown with Customs and Border Protection (CBP) in that they are intended to operate in civilian airspace. CBP has been operating MQ-9 UAVs for 15 years.

Congress seems not only willing to support Coast Guard operation of land based medium altitude long endurance (MALE) UAVs like the Seaguardian. They are actually pushing the Coast Guard. They can not seem to understand why we have not done it already.

In addition to the possibilities of use in the drug transit zones, these long range, long endurance aircraft could be especially useful in detecting IUU activity in the Western Pacific where there normally are no Coast Guard air assets.

“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. 

Martin V-BAT “Guard evaluates new technology for unmanned aircraft system operations” –Acquisitions Directorate (CG-9)

Below I have reproduced a story from the CG-9 Website. To put this into perspective the V-Bat system has a slightly smaller wing span than the ScanEagle (9′ vs 10’3″) and weighs about twice as much (88 lbs (40 kg) vs 44-48.5 lb. (22 kg)), heavier, but still easily handled. There is a skid under the nose to allows the V-BAT to be laid on the deck. Cruise speeds are similar. Dash speed is actually a little higher for the V-BAT (90 vs 80 knots). V-BAT has “Wind Limitations: 20 kt + 5 kt gust spread” for takeoff that should be relatively easy to achieve by adjusting course and speed to minimize wind over deck, but it might be a factor if we want to launch during a chase. V-BAT has a 182cc 15 HP 2-cylinder EFI engine which can use either a Gas-Oil Mix or JP-4/5/8. It has a remote start and can provide 500 watts onboard electrical power. It has a 350 mile range (statute miles I presume, so about 300 nautical miles) and has a highly accurate fuel monitoring system

Martin V-BAT UAV

Interestingly, for operation from say a Webber Class FRC, there is also a smaller electric eV-BAT.

  • Wing Span: 5 ft
  • Length: 4 ft
  • Weight: 18 lbs
  • Ceiling: 5k ft
  • Speed: 50 kts
  • Propulsion: 3 HP electric motor

The electric eV-BAT is probably both very reliable and very quiet. I am guessing, based on what I know the technology it has an endurance of about 20 minutes. Its sensors would be limited by the lower payload weight.

Don’t believe any of these smaller UAVs have a “sense and avoid” system to prevent mid-airs so they, and the surrounding air space, has to be monitored while they are airborne.

The News Release:

—-

Guard evaluates new technology for unmanned aircraft system operations

V-BAT vertical take-off and landing

A V-BAT vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) unmanned aerial system prepares to land on the flight deck of the Military Sealift Command expeditionary fast transport vessel USNS Spearhead during a C4F “innovation cell” test of the VTOL. Photo courtesy of Martin UAV V-BAT.


The Coast Guard Research and Development Center (RDC), Coast Guard Atlantic Area and U.S. Southern Command (USSOUTHCOM) conducted a collaborative unmanned aircraft system (UAS) pilot program utilizing a vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) UAS Aug. 13-14. The pilot program utilized contractor-owned, contractor-operated UAS services on-board Coast Guard Cutter Harriet Lane in the USSOUTHCOM area of responsibility for a short-term deployment.

“SOUTHCOM has long had interest in the demonstration of this technology, and we are always looking for opportunities to advance our knowledge of its capabilities,” said Cameron Stanley, command science adviser for USSOUTHCOM. “This was a great opportunity to evaluate the potential use of this technology alongside our critical interagency partners to advance the state of practice and enable our collective response to common operational challenges.”

The Martin UAV V-BAT was used for this program; it is the first-ever VTOL medium range UAS to be evaluated during an operational Coast Guard patrol. Because of the vertical takeoff, a VTOL UAS does not require any additional gear on the flight deck to support operations, unlike other UAS that require launch and recovery devices.

The deployment is providing the RDC invaluable data for supporting future VTOL medium range UAS capabilities and efforts involving Beyond Visual Line of Sight operations. While the evaluation is looking at how successfully VTOL systems take off and land on board a Coast Guard cutter, patrol data can be used to refine the concept of operations and requirements for installing and integrating VTOL UAS across current and future cutter classes.

UAS technology has already proven to be a game changer for the Coast Guard. Information provided by sensors aboard UAS “impacts timelines for obtaining a statement of no objection for boarding vessels, provides situational awareness for boarding crews prior to embarking on targets of interest and provides a better covert means for tracking targets of interest,” resulting in enhanced maritime domain awareness and mission execution, explained Stephen Dunn, RDC aviation research scientist. “The VTOL system takes things a step further by reducing the footprint of the UAS for future Coast Guard cutter acquisitions,” Dunn said.

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

“Defense Unit Certifies Five Small Commercial UAS for Government Use” –Seapower

Puma LE (long endurance) unmanned aircraft. Photo from Aerovironment

Come September you will be able to get your small unmanned air system off the GSA schedule.

The Navy Leagues magazine Seapower reports that,

“The Defense Innovation Unit (DIU), a Department of Defense organization that accelerates commercial technology for national defense, announced the availability of five U.S.-manufactured drone configurations to provide trusted, secure small Unmanned Aircraft Systems (sUAS) options to the U.S. government, the Pentagon said in an Aug. 20 release. “

Seapower’s July/August Coast Guard Issue.

USCGC Stratton (WMSL-752), left, and the U.S. Navy Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS McCampbell (DDG-85) maneuver in formation during Talisman Sabre 2019 on July 11, 2019. US Navy Photo

The July/August issue of the Navy League’s magazine Seapower included a lot of Coast Guard content. I will not try to cover everything included, much of which has already been covered here, but I will mention a few things that stood out for me.

The Commandant’s Interview:

There was an interview with the Commandant, Admiral Schultz, that I found most interesting. There was a fair amount of information that was new to me.

Icebreakers:

Perhaps most significant was a comment regarding the Medium icebreaker.

“We also are looking to build probably a medium breaker, potentially what we’re going to call the Arctic security cutter — a little less capability in terms of icebreaking, but that capability would get us back to being an Atlantic and Pacific icebreaker Coast Guard.(emphasis applied–Chuck)

It may be that, if this ship is intended to transit the St Lawrence Seaway and work part time in the Great Lakes, like Canada’s proposed six “Program Icebreakers,” it would preclude the option of simply building six Polar Security Cutters rather than the three heavy and three medium icebreakers called for in the High Latitude Study. Alternately we might have four heavy Polar Security Cutters (PSC) in the Pacific and two Arctic Security Cutters (ASC) in the Atlantic.

The interview goes on to state, referring to its planned five year long progressive service life extension program, “…we could keep the 44-year-old Polar Star around here probably through the end of the decade if things go well.” (emphasis applied–Chuck)

The Western Pacific:

The Commandant noted that the Coast Guard had advisers in the Philippines, Vietnam, Fiji, and that an additional adviser would go to Malaysia and an attache to Australia to work with Australia and New Zealand. That there would also be an advisor assigned to Guam to work with the Commonwealth of Micronesia and the Federated States of Micronesia.

The Coast Guard is becoming more involved in countering Illegal, Unregulated, and Unreported (IUU) fishing, and will be providing leadership in international forums.

In reference to the forthcoming Tri-Service Maritime Strategy the Commandant said we could expect, “…to see the Coast Guard bring some unique capabilities to that conversation, particularly in the Indo-Pacific region.” 

Unmanned Systems:

Regarding land based systems the Commandant noted, “..we’ve completed prototype deployment of ScanEagle in Puerto Rico and Texas.” and “We teamed with U.S. Southern Command and CBP and employed one of those (MQ-9–Chuck) in an operation out of Panama that proved tremendously successful.”

He also mentions the possibility of using UAS of all sizes and mentioned the possibility of unmanned surface systems as well.

Cyber:

Sighting the FY2021 budget, Admiral Schultz said, “That is one of the biggest growth areas for humans in the Coast Guard here in the past budget cycle or two. There is somewhere north of 150 additional cyber warriors in the budget before the Congress right now.” 

“Insitu’s ScanEagle Performs ISR for Coast Guard”

There is a short one page report on the use of ScanEagle. It notes that ScanEagle is currently installed on six National Security Cutters and will be installed on all NSCs.

“A standard pack-out for a deployment of three ScanEagle UASs. The sensor systems include an electro-optical/infrared camera, a laser pointer, a communications relay, an automatic identification system (AIS), and visual detection and ranging (VIDAR)–a surface search capability.”

Interesting that it includes a laser pointer on the Coast Guard aircraft because that is usually used as a designator for laser homing weapons.

“The Era of the New Cutters”

This was a three page story, most of which is familiar to regular readers of this blog, but there was one nugget I had not seen before. “…the Coast Guard still will need to pursue a service-life extension program on six of the ships to ensure sustained fleet capability until the OPC program is finished.”

This almost certainly refers to the service life extension program (SLEP) for 270 foot WMECs. This is, I believe, the first time I have seen a number of ships mentioned, so not the whole class of 13. Notably it is only six so don’t expect a SLEP for 210s. They will soldier on in their current configuration until their long delayed retirement.

“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.

“British Coast Guard To Trial CAMCOPTER VTOL UAV For Unmanned SAR Missions” –Naval News

Bristow’s Sikorsky S-92 SAR helicopter flying alongside a Camcopter VTOL UAV. Bristow picture.

Naval News reports that the British Coast Guard is conducting trials using the Schiebel S-100. (We have talked about this UAV before.)

These systems provide us with an option to keep our Sikorsky S92 helicopter crew at Caernarfon on standby for lifesaving events, while the unmanned aircraft are tasked with providing safety overwatch and monitoring which those manned aircraft would otherwise have been sent to carry out. Bristow began initial testing with Schiebel in 2018, with a view to bringing these UAVs into service during the current UKSAR contract. We are proud to have successfully completed these first missions on behalf of HM Coastguard.”

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.”

 

All Currently Commissioned NSC to Have Small Unmanned Air Systems by the End of the Year

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 Acquisitions Directorate (CG-9) has announced that all eight currently commissioned National Security Cutters should have small unmanned aircraft systems but the end of the calender year (quoted below). Presumably these will be Scan Eagle systems. Intention is to have these on the Offshore Patrol Cutters as well. 

“The Coast Guard’s small unmanned aircraft system (sUAS) for national security cutter (NSC) program reached a milestone March 4 when Rear Adm. Michael Johnston, assistant commandant for acquisition and chief acquisition officer, approved a move to full production, called ADE-3. This allows the program to move forward with outfitting the remainder of the Service’s operational NSCs with sUAS capability.

“The Coast Guard awarded a contract June 6, 2018, to Insitu for the procurement of sUAS capability on three NSCs and options to outfit the rest of the NSC fleet in future years. In 2019, the Commandant expressed the service’s intent to accelerate delivery of the capability. The sUAS program office, aided by Naval Information Warfare Center-Atlantic, developed an aggressive strategy to install and employ the sUAS capability onboard all operational NSCs by the end of calendar year 2020. The ADE-3 approval allows the newly implemented schedule to continue as set. The program is currently on track to meet guidance to double installation rates by the end of calendar year 2020.

“Coast Guard Cutters Stratton, James, Munro, Kimball and Waesche are fully outfitted with sUAS capability. Coast Guard Cutters Bertholf, Hamilton and Midgett are all currently being outfitted with the sUAS capability. Coast Guard Cutter Bertholf is scheduled to be fully mission capable in summer 2020 with Hamilton and Midgett on track to be completed before the end of the calendar year.

“A UAS consists of an unmanned aircraft, its mission payloads, launch and recovery equipment, ground support equipment, and data and control links. The Coast Guard requires a UAS that can remain on station for extended periods, expand maritime domain awareness and disseminate actionable intelligence on maritime hazards and threats.

“For more information: Unmanned Aircraft Systems program page”

Insitu ScanEagle small Unmanned Air System (sUAS)

“Coast Guard to develop drone interception capability” –Defense Systems

Defense systems reports that,

“The U.S. Coast Guard is developing a counter-drone capability to both protect its own locations and to guard protected assets under special circumstances as provided for under a recent law.”

Ever since a quadcopter crash landed about two meters from German Prime Minister Angela Merkel in 2013 there has been a recognition that these systems might be used for sinister purposes.

Terrorist have started using drones as a cruise missile, lite.

The R&D Center has apparently already had a successful test.