“Thai Navy Buys Aerial Drones to Patrol Its Seas” –Marine Link

Elbit Systems 900. Photo from Wikipedia by Ronite

Another nation acquiring land based Unmanned Air Systems for Maritime patrol. This time it is Thailand. The system chosen, the Hermes 900, may look a lot like the MQ-9B. that I think is currently the most logical choice for the USCG, but it is much smaller, more like the MQ-1 Predator. The Wikipedia entry for the Hermes 900 appears to indicate the UAS does not yet have a “sense and avoid” system (see the entry for Switzerland).

How Much Do Those Drones Cost?

The Coast Guard is equipping its National Security Cutters with Scan Eagle Unmanned Air Systems (UAS), but has yet to buy the systems. The deployed systems are contractor owned and operated. Should the Coast Guard decide to buy these systems we have a rough indication of the going rate. The RQ-21, referred to in the contract reported below, are similar in concept to the Scan Eagle, but a bit larger (135 pounds max takeoff weight vs 58 pounds).

This from the U.S. Department of Defense Daily Digest Bulletin, Contracts for Sept. 14, 2022.

Insitu Inc., Bingen, Washington, is awarded a $191,835,973 firm-fixed-price modification (P00002) to a previously awarded indefinite-delivery/indefinite-quantity contract (N0001922D0038). This modification adds scope to procure 13 RQ-21A Blackjack air vehicles, 25 ScanEagle air vehicles, 48 RQ-21A and ScanEagle payloads and turrets, support equipment, spares and sustainment spares and tools in support of RQ-21A Blackjack and ScanEagle unmanned aircraft platforms for the Navy, Marine Corps, and Foreign Military Sales customers.  Work will be performed in Bingen, Washington (88%); and various locations outside the continental U.S. (12%), and is expected to be completed in June 2026. No funds will be obligated at the time of award; funds will be obligated on individual orders as they are issued.  The Naval Air System Command, Patuxent River, Maryland, is the contracting activity.

It would not be unusual for the Coast Guard to piggy back on a DOD contract to procure these systems.

I can understand the Coast Guard’s decision to contract out rather than buy, because the technology has been moving incredibly fast. At some point in the not too distant future, we should have useful UAS operating from all our patrol vessels down to the Webber Class.

Scan Eagle approaching a ship for its first autonomous recovery, using the Skyhook system. This shows how even very small ships can operate these systems.

“First Three SMDM Fixed-Wing UAS Delivered To The French Navy” –Naval News

“The Aliaca maritime UAS is a high endurance versatile system allowing up to 3 hours missions over a 50 km (27 Nm) range, perfectly adapted to maritime missions with high gyro stabilized EO/IR payload performances and qualified to operate in severe environmental conditions. Airbus Defence and Space/ Survey COPTER image.”

Naval News reports first deliveries under the French Navy’s “Système de Mini Drones aériens embarqués pour la Marine” (On-board Mini Aerial Drone System for the Navy), or SMDM program intended to provide small, fixed wing, unmanned aircraft to support their Offshore Patrol Vessels. 

The DGA ordered 11 SMDMs at the end of 2020 to the SME Survey Copter, a subsidiary of Airbus Group, for an amount of 19.7 million euros, including procurement of systems and support services. Deliveries will be staggered until 2023…An SMDM is composed of two Aliaca UAVs from Survey Copter. The Aliaca is set to be deployed aboard the future offshore patrol vessels of the French Navy (both the POM and future Patrouilleur Oceanique) and surveillance frigates. Integration on the Mistral-class LHD is also considered.

These electric powered UAVs will fill essentially the same role as the Scan Eagles being used on the Bertholf class National Security Cutters (NSC). They are very nearly the same size. At first glance, at least, Scan Eagle appears more capable in every way.

Electric powered UAS are clean, quiet, and usually extremely reliable. The vessels that will be operating these UAS are all smaller than the 4,600 ton NSCs, the 1,300 ton POMs very much smaller.

It does sound like these will be Navy owned and operated, rather than operated by contractors, like the Coast Guard’s Scan Eagles.

Photos below were found in this French language report: “Marine nationale : une première capacité opérationnelle du SMDM espérée cet été”

Campagne d’essais en 2014 sur un PHM (© : MARINE NATIONALE)
© Mer et Marine https://www.meretmarine.com/fr/marine-nationale-une-premiere-capacite-operationnelle-du-smdm-esperee-cet-ete

“Coast Guard releases request for information for medium-range unmanned aircraft systems” –CG-9

Insitu Scan Eagle in Coast Guard colors. Notably the RFI requires, “…the UA shall incorporate low-visibility, counter-shaded paint scheme consisting of FED-STD-595C FS 36320 (or similar) matte gray upper surfaces and FED-STD-595C FS 36375 (or similar) matte gray lower surfaces,” much like an Air Force F-16.

Below is an Acquisitions Directorate (CG-9) statement regarding a Request for Information,

The Coast Guard released a request for information (RFI) Aug. 5 to determine the potential sources and the technical capability of industry to provide Group II and Group III unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), capable of deploying from Coast Guard cutters.

The RFI can be found here.

So what are “Group II and Group III unmanned aircraft systems (UAS)?” Wikipedia identifies the groups and provides examples.

  • Group II: Maximum weight 21 to 55 pounds (25 kg); Nominal Operating Altitude <3500 feet above ground level (AGL) (1,067 meters); speed less than 250 knots
  • Group III: Maximum weight <1320 pounds (600 kg); Nominal Operating Altitude < flight level 180 (about 18,000 feet or 5,488 meters); speed less than 250 knots

Notably the Navy’s Fire Scout is a Group IV UAS, so will not be considered. These groups do include both Insitu’s Scan Eagle, currently being used on National Security Cutters and their larger RQ-21 Blackjack. Also included are the V-Bat which has been tested on a Coast Guard WMEC and a number other vertical take-off and landing capable UAS.

The RFI appendix 1, entitled “Draft System Performance Specifications (SPS)” is 11 pages long and provides much more detail. I will mention only some highlights and these are only the minimums, there are also higher objective criteria:

  • Endurance: 12 hours
  • Dash speed: 70 knots
  • Cruise speed: 50 knots
  • Service ceiling: 3,000 feet
  • Range: 40 nmi in clear weather, 35 in light rain
  • The UA shall provide fully automated flight operations, including launch and recovery.
  • The UA shall have space, weight, and power to concurrently operate: Electro-Optical (EO) sensor, Infra-Red (IR) sensor, AIS, VHF/UHF communications relay, aeronautical transponder, and non-visible IR marker. [KPP]
  • At an operating altitude of 3,000 feet when the UAS is directly overhead of the target of interest (no slant range), the UA shall be acoustically non–detectable per MIL STD-1474 (series), Level 1 requirements (quiet rural area with the closest heavily used highway and community noises at least 2.5 miles away).

Notably there is no mention of radar or vidar, although Vidar is an EO sensor currently used by Scan Eagle UAS operating from National Security Cutters. There is also this,

The UA shall be capable of accepting modular payloads. Modular payloads are defined as payloads that can be replaced or interchanged with the previously-installed EO or IR payload(s) within one to two hours (elapsed time). Modular payloads may be government provided.

I did find this interesting, “The UA shall launch and recover while a static MH-65 is spotted with blades unfolded on the flight deck.”

The drawings contained in Appendix 2 indicate that these Unmanned Aircraft are intended for Bertholf class “National Security” cutters. Appendix 1 also sounded like these would be contractor operated, as are the Scan Eagles currently being deployed on National Security Cutters.

Since these specs are not too different from the Scan Eagles already being used on National Security Cutters, the Coast Guard may be just checking the competition to see what else is out there. On the other hand, perhaps some of the requirements may not be being met by the Scan Eagle UAS we are currently using. That the RFI provided only 17 days from issue to deadline for response, suggests the Coast Guard had already been been in communications with “the usual suspects.”


Coast Guard releases request for information for medium-range unmanned aircraft systems

The Coast Guard released a request for information (RFI) Aug. 5 to determine the potential sources and the technical capability of industry to provide Group II and Group III unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), capable of deploying from Coast Guard cutters.

The Coast Guard is interested in UAS that include fully automatic flight operations, have a minimum endurance of 12 hours and can be launched and recovered from a cutter flight deck. For Coast Guard mission success, UAS need to be capable of carrying a payload including electro-optical and infrared sensors and communications relay. Technological readiness level and degree of commonality and interoperability with existing Department of Homeland Security or Department of Defense programs are also of interest.

The full RFI is available here. Responses are due by 1 p.m. EDT Aug. 22.

For more information: Unmanned Aircraft Systems Program page

“Watch Ukrainian TB2 Striking Two Russian Raptor Assault Boats” –Naval News

Naval News brings us a report of the destruction of two small Russian patrol boats by small guided weapons launched from an unmanned aircraft.

This should not come as a surprise to anyone. The Ukrainians have been attacking Russian vehicles with guided weapons, launched from UAS since the invasion began. Hitting a boat, is, if anything, easier than hitting a particular moving vehicle on a landscape cluttered with other vehicles, buildings, trees, and various heat sources.

But perhaps for those who have not been paying attention this may be a wakeup call. I happy to be able to say it looks like the Coast Guard has recognized this as a threat to our boats in PATFORSWA.

But maybe we need to look beyond the threat of nation states. Like other effective, but relatively cheap weapons, UAVs, and particularly suicide drones, are likely end up in the hands of non-state actors, including criminal and terrorist organizations.

“GA-ASI Selected for Japan Coast Guard RPAS Project” –News Release

MQ-9B SeaGuardian. General Atomic photo.

Below is a news release from General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc. The USCG has yet to select their own shore based unmanned air system. Note, there is as yet no indication Japan Coast Guard is purchasing this system. It appears more likely they are using contractor owned and operated systems as a step toward a more comprehensive JCG owned and operated system. UAS on USCG cutters are still currently contractor owned and operated. 

GA-ASI Selected for Japan Coast Guard RPAS Project

Japan EEZ Surveillance Using SeaGuardian® RPA Scheduled to Begin in October

SAN DIEGO – 06 April 2022  General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc. (GA-ASI), the global leader in Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems (RPAS), is pleased to be selected to support the Japan Coast Guard’s (JCG) RPAS Project. Operations will feature GA-ASI’s MQ-9B SeaGuardian® and begin in October 2022.

SeaGuardian will be used to conduct wide-area maritime surveillance to support JCG’s missions, which include search and rescue, disaster response, and maritime law enforcement. This project follows a series of successful JCG flight trials in 2020 that used SeaGuardian to validate the same JCG missions in accordance with Japan’s “Policy on Strengthening the Maritime Security Systems,” using unmanned aerial vehicles to perform maritime wide-area surveillance.

“We’re proud to support the JCG’s maritime surveillance mission with our SeaGuardian UAS,” said Linden Blue, CEO of GA-ASI. “The system’s ability to provide affordable, extremely long-endurance airborne surveillance with long-range sensors in the maritime domain is unprecedented.”

SeaGuardian features a multi-mode maritime surface-search radar with an 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. This sensor suite enables real-time detection and identification of surface vessels over thousands of square nautical miles and provides automatic tracking of maritime targets and correlation of AIS transmitters with radar tracks.

SkyGuardian® and SeaGuardian® are revolutionizing the long-endurance RPAS market by providing all-weather capability and full compliance with STANAG-4671 (NATO UAS airworthiness standard). This feature, along with our operationally proven, collision-avoidance radar, enables flexible operations in civil airspace.

About GA-ASI

General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc. (GA-ASI), an affiliate of General Atomics, is a leading designer and manufacturer of proven, reliable, Remotely Piloted Aircraft (RPA) systems, radars, and electro-optic and related mission systems, including the Predator® RPA series and the Lynx® Multi-mode Radar. With more than seven million flight hours, GA-ASI provides long-endurance, mission-capable aircraft with integrated sensor and data link systems required to deliver persistent flight that enables situational awareness and rapid strike. The company also produces a variety of ground control stations and sensor control/image analysis software, offers pilot training and support services, and develops meta-material antennas. For more information, visit www.ga-asi.com

“Sea Air Space 2022” –Naval News Video Coverage

Below I have posted two videos by Naval News, along with the breakdown of topics that accompanied the videos on YouTube. The video of the 30mm Mk38 Mod4 with its included electro-optic fire control system is probably of most immediate interest to the Coast Guard, but the increasing tendency to containerize weapon systems is appears ready to make any cutter (and almost any other ship) a missile carrier.

  • 01:06 – Constellation-class frigate program with Fincantieri Marinette Marine
  • 04:30 – MSI Defence Mark 38 Mod 4 30mm naval gun system
  • 07:53 – Lockheed Martin’s Expeditionary Launching System
  • 09:21 – BAE Systems E-Launcher
  • 09:52 – Kongsberg NSM-HL helicopter launched naval strike missile
  • 00:43 – Kongsberg Hugin Edge UUV
  • 02:27 – General Dynamics Tethered Unmanned Aerial Systems
  • 03:36 – Shield AI’s Hivemind (V-BAT also –Chuck)
  • 05:23 – Saildrone Explorer USV
  • 06:48 – PennState’s 54″ Large Test Vehicle UUV

 

Three PATFORSWA Island Class Cutters Decommissioned

This from Chris Cavas on Twitter. More photos there.

Three hard-working 110-foot US #Coast Guard cutters were decommissioned 22 March in a ceremony at Manama, #Bahrain. Cutters MAUI WPB1304, MONOMOY WPB1326 & WRANGELL WPB1332 served in the Persian Gulf since 2004, will now be available for foreign transfer.

USCGC Adak was previously decommissioned and sold to Indonesia. Likely these little ships will continue to provide useful service.

They are being replaced in Bahrain by larger and more capable Webber class Fast Response Cutters. It appears the newly arrived cutters are equipped to counter Unmanned Systems.

Thanks to Walter for bringing this to my attention. 

“Coast Guard Cutter Stratton returns to Alameda following 97-day South Pacific patrol” –News Release

U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Stratton (WMSL 752) participates in a exercise with the Australian maritime surveillance aircraft in the South Pacific Ocean, Feb. 23, 2022. The Stratton is currently underway conducting exercises and operations with partner nations in the South Pacific region. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by U.S. Marine Corps Sgt. Sarah Stegall)

Just a news release, but it is about one of those increasingly common long deployments to the Western Pacific. Notable are the use of the small unmanned air system, presumably Scan Eagle, shiprider program with Fiji, and laying the ground work for a shiprider program with Papua New Guinea.

220130-N-CD319-1014 SOUTH PACIFIC OCEAN (Jan. 30, 2022) The Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Sampson (DDG 102) participates in Divisional Tactics (DIVTAC) formations with U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Stratton (WMSL 752) and British Royal Navy ship HMS Spey (P 234). Sampson is positioned to conduct lifesaving actions in support of disaster relief efforts in Tonga. The ship is operating in support of the Australian Defence Force (ADF). The Australian Government response is coordinating closely with France and New Zealand under the FRANZ partnership, alongside Fiji, Japan, United Kingdom and the United States to assist Tonga in its time of need. Sampson is on a scheduled deployment in the U.S. 7th Fleet area of operations to enhance interoperability with alliances and partnerships while serving as a ready-response force in support of a free and open Indo-Pacific region. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Tristan Cookson)

News Release

March 21, 2022
U.S. Coast Guard Pacific Area

Coast Guard Cutter Stratton returns to Alameda following 97-day South Pacific patrol

Photo of CGC Stratton Photo of CGC Stratton Photo of boarding
Photo of boarding Photo of Fiji press event Photo of boarding

Editors’ Note: Click on images above to download high resolution versions. Additional photos are available here.

ALAMEDA, Calif. — The crew of Coast Guard Cutter Stratton (WMSL 752) returned to Alameda Saturday after completing an Operation Blue Pacific Patrol in the south Pacific.

While underway, Stratton’s crew worked with Pacific partner nations, including Fiji, France, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Australia, and the United Kingdom on an array of missions and prioritized combating Illegal, Unreported, and Unregulated fishing on the high seas or in partner nations’ exclusive economic zones.

In the effort to combat IUU fishing, Stratton teams boarded 11 vessels during the 20,348-mile patrol and found 21 violations.

“Our collaboration with our partners and utilization of our shiprider agreements gave us the ability to accomplish our mission of combatting illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing in order to maintain regional stability and protect the fishing industry,” said Capt. Steve Adler, Stratton’s commanding officer. “By bringing aboard shipriders from Fiji, we were able to patrol their exclusive economic zones to better assist them in enforcing their maritime laws.”

In February, Stratton embarked three shipriders from Fiji with representatives from the Fiji Revenue and Customs Services, the Fiji Ministry of Fisheries, and the Republic of Fiji Navy, who led bilateral enforcement efforts for Stratton to patrol their exclusive economic zones.

There is a shared interest for both Fiji and the United States, as well as other partner nations, to protect fisheries as they provide a renewable source of food and income to the Pacific nations.

The Stratton crew also used small Unmanned Aircraft Systems to increase the ship’s capabilities and further extend the cutter’s patrol area.

“Stratton’s capacity for employing cutting edge technology like sUAS, gives the Coast Guard the upper hand in the fight against IUU fishing,” said Cmdr. Charter Tschirgi, Stratton’s executive officer. “The vast area covered during patrols like these displays the reach the Coast Guard has and the length we will go to assist our partners in the Pacific.”

Stratton visited multiple countries while deployed, including Tahiti, Fiji, and Papua New Guinea. While in Suva, Fiji, Stratton hosted a joint media engagement with the Fijian Permanent Secretary for Ministry of Defense, Manasa Lasuma, and the Fijian Permanent Secretary for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Yogesh Karan. While anchored in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea, Stratton also hosted an engagement and law enforcement demonstration in conjunction with U.S. Ambassador Erin McKee and representatives of Papua New Guinea: Chief Inspector Christopher Smith, Terry Udu, Moses Teng, Hiribuma Dabuma, MAJ Norbeth Fehi, and Ivan Salonica. This discussion and demonstration of law enforcement operations and regional partnerships helped facilitate a future signing of a bilateral shiprider agreement between Papua New Guinea and the United States.

“Communicating with our allies face-to-face is extremely valuable,” said Ensign Alexander Mastel, Stratton’s public affairs officer. “With IUU fishing replacing piracy as the leading global maritime security threat, it is more important than ever to join efforts in ensuring economic security in the Pacific.”

While on patrol, Stratton’s crew also participated in multiple joint exercises with partners in the region. These included a formation sailing with the HMS Spey, a tactical maneuvering drill with HMS Spey and USS Sampson, a joint patrol with an Australian Border Force patrol aircraft, fueling-at-sea with New Zealand’s newest replenishment vessel HMNZS Aotearoa, and joint steaming with the French Naval vessel FMS Arago and Fijian Patrol vessel Savenaca.

“Partnerships across the Pacific are the key to success in combatting illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing. I am extremely proud of the crew for demonstrating tremendous success in partnering and operating with our regional partners and allies across Oceania, including navies and law enforcement officials from French Polynesia, Fiji, Papua New Guinea, New Zealand, Australia, and the United Kingdom,” said Adler. “Only by building these continued relationships and joint operations with patrols like Stratton’s Operation Blue Pacific will we be able to truly make a difference and impact against the global problem of IUU fishing. By training with our partners, we further our interoperability and cooperation, ultimately advancing a peaceful, free and open Indo-Pacific.”

“First full rate production cutter boat large delivered to Coast Guard fleet” –CG-9

The first full rate production cutter boat large, hull 22335, is delivered to Coast Guard Cutter Dauntless in Pensacola, Florida, Feb. 7, 2022. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

The Acquisitions Directorate (CG-9) reports,

The Coast Guard accepted the first full rate production cutter boat large (CB-L) with delivery of 22335 to Coast Guard Cutter Dauntless in Pensacola, Florida, Feb. 7.

This is the fifth CB-L delivered. The first four were used to refine the design and configuration and for operational test and evaluation to validate that the vessel meets Coast Guard operational demands. An additional 17 CB-Ls are on order. The program of record is for up to 36 CB-Ls.

These 36 boats are intended to operate from the USCGC Alex Haley (WMEC-39), USCGC Mackinaw (WLBB-30), 14 Reliance class 210-foot medium endurance cutters, 16 Juniper class 225-foot seagoing buoy tenders for a total of 32 ships. So, looks like the intention is to provide only one per ship, even for those that have two ship’s boats positions. Sounds like some ships will end up operating two different types of boats.

We talked about this new boat a couple of times back in 2018 when the contract was initiated, here and here.

It appears this boat is closely related to “The Watcher” unmanned surface vessels that the Coast Guard evaluated.