“French Customs order OCEA FPB 100 MKII patrol boats” –Naval News

A CGI of the OCEA FPB 100 MKII patrol boat ordered by the French Customs (Credit : OCEA) Note UAV landing area aft port side. 

Naval News reports that French Customs has ordered a pair of new patrol boats in the WPB class. They have some interesting features.

These are slightly smaller than the Island class cutters at 32 meters or 105 feet. They are all Aluminum. This newest version includes a night vision device and a larger, faster, 7 meter 35 knot RHIB deployed, like on other OCEA designs, by davit . But most remarkably they are expected to host a rotary wing UAV. 

“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.

New Small UAS, Aerovironment Puma LE

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

Seapower Magazine reports an improvement to a system the Coast Guard has done some experimentation with from a 65 foot tug (and here from Healey). The Canadians have purchased the earlier version for their 181 foot Kingston class Coastal Defense Ships.

The technology seems to be headed in the right direction, with smaller and smaller drones capable of doing more and more, but I still think, for now at least, patrol vessels need something faster with a larger payload, like the Scan Eagle we are getting for the Bertholf class NSCs and planned for the Offshore Patrol Cutters, preferably including radar or vidar. Vessels as small as WPBs could use them, although it is a bit of stretch right now. Something like this might be useful to provide over-watch during boardings, but I don’t think it is the search asset patrol vessels need. Smaller vessels that operate closer to shore, e.g. motor surf boats or response boats, could be supported by UAS operated from their shore station. A UAS like this might be useful to provide relatively close recon for icebreakers looking for leads, both polar and domestic.

This new version, the Puma LE, (specs here) at 22.5 to 26 pounds with its 15 foot span and 7 foot length, would be difficult to hand launch from a rolling deck, but a bungee launch would be simple and easy. With a cruise speed of only 25 knots and a dash speed of 41 knots, it might find wind conditions at sea a bit challenging. I presume recovery is still by either landing on deck or landing in the water. Something similar to the Scan Eagles recovery system might be a significant improvement, although the ability to survive a water landing is certainly an asset.

For comparison, Scan Eagle has a shorter span, 10.2′ vs 15; is faster, 60 knot cruise vs 25; has a greater payload, 7.5 lb (3.4 kg) vs 5.5 lbs (2.5 kg); has a higher max take off weight, 48.5 lb (22 kg) vs 26 lb (11.8 kg); and has much greater endurance, 24 hours vs 5.5 hours.

“UK Maritime and Coast Guard Agency wants drones for its SAR missions” –Naval News

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.

Sea-Air-Space 2019 Virtual Tour

Like most of you I did not make it to the Navy League’s 2019 Sea-Air-Space Exposition, so I have found some YouTube reports that can at least provide some of the information passed along at the event. The descriptions below each video are from the YouTube description.

Day 1 video coverage at the Sea Air Space 2019 exposition. In this video we cover:
– Boeing MQ-25 Stingray aerial refueling drone with Rear Admiral Corey
– Future USVs and XLUUV/Orca programs with Captain Pete Small
– Austal USA new range of medium and large size USVs
Textron Systems CUSV with surface warfare payload
– ST Engineering range of USVs

Day 2 video coverage at the Sea Air Space 2019 exposition. In this video we cover:
– Raytheon SPY-6 radar
– Raytheon / Kongsberg NSM for USMC
– Northrop Grumman PGK for naval 5 Inch and 155mm guns
– Lockheed Martin Freedom-class lethality and survivability upgrade
– Lockheed Martin FFG(X)
– Navantia / BIW FFG(X)

Day 3 video coverage at the Sea Air Space 2019 exposition. Washington-based naval expert Chris Cavas is our guest speaker for this third and final day at Sea Air Space 2019. Cavas covers the follow topics:
– Bell V-247 Vigilant VTOL tilt-rotor UAV in U.S. Navy configuration
– Austal USA USV concepts
– Austal USA FFG(X) Frigate
– Fincantieri FFG(X) Frigate
– GD Bath Iron Works FFG(X) Frigate
– Lockheed Martin Type 26 CSC
– Lockheed Martin hypervelocity missile
– Mic drop

Norwegians Test Vertical Take Off UAS for SAR in the Arctic

Schiebel’s Camcopter S-100 will start tests with the Norwegian Coast Guard in fall 2019. Schiebel

Seapower Magazine is reporting that the Norwegian Coast Guard is to begin a second set of tests to confirm the usefulness of a vertical Take-off and Landing (VTOL) Unmanned Air System (UAS) for SAR in the Arctic environment.

The UAS, the Schiebel Camcopter S-100, has a max takeoff weight of 200 kg (441 lb), a length of 3.11 m (10 ft 2 in), and a main rotor diameter of 3.4 m (11 ft 2 in). The system is widely used, including operation by the German, Italian, and Chinese Navies and the Russian Coast Guard. (More here). It is much more compact than even the smaller MQ-8B version of Fire Scout which has a max. takeoff weight: of 3,150 lb (1,430 kg), a length of 23.95 ft (7.3 m), and a main rotor diameter of 27.5 ft (8.4 m)

We might want to ask if we could send an observer or at least get the results of their evaluation.