“Coast Guard signs strategic plan for unmanned systems” –MyCG

MyCG reports the completion of a Coast Guard UxS Strategic Plan,

“,,,the Coast Guard will find ways to use unmanned systems to improve our mission execution. Second, the Coast Guard will prepare to defend against threats from unlawful use of unmanned systems. Finally, the Coast Guard must establish and enforce a regulatory framework for the safe and lawful use of unmanned systems and automation in the Marine Transportation System.”

Using Unmanned air systems (UAS) and surface systems (USV) for increased Maritime Domain awareness is a no brainer.

Unmanned systems will certainly impact crewing requirements for the marine transportation system, with things like remote watch standers, market forces will make that happen.

The most challenging part of this will be “to defend against threats from unlawful use of unmanned systems.” This should include criminals, terrorists, and malevolent state actors.

A team aboard Coast Guard Cutter Stratton’s long range interceptor-II cutter boat participates in the interdiction of a self-propelled semi-submersible vessel in the Eastern Pacific Ocean July 18, 2015. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class LaNola Stone.

For criminals, shipping drugs without using crewmembers that might provide intelligence on their operations if captured, has to seem like a good idea.

The wars in Yemen and Ukraine have already shown us what terrorists or a nation state might do with unmanned surface vessels.

The US Navy and many others are working on unmanned undersea vehicles (UUVs) as weapons platforms.

Snakehead Large Displacement Unmanned Undersea Vehicle (LDUUV)

Will the Coast Guard include countering UUVs as part of its mission?

Will this prompt a return of the Coast Guard’s ASW mission?

It’s likely unmanned surface vessels will be required to counter unmanned undersea vessels.

“HMS Tamar Makes Rare Port Call to Diego Garcia” –SeaWaves Magazine

HMS Tamar arriving into Diego Garcia

SeaWaves Magazine reports on a visit by Royal Navy Offshore Patrol Vessel Tamar to the Island of Diego Garcia, an important US and Allied base in the Indian Ocean.

“Crew of the patrol ship concentrated on safeguarding the environment in the British Indian Ocean Territory, ensuring the remote island chain’s rare wildlife was not disturbed by the illegal actions of humanity.

“They found its shores littered with tonnes of rubbish and fishermen flouting international law, trawling the territory’s expansive, protected waters – roughly the size of Texas – for its rich stocks of rare fish.”

I would note two things, first this visit is much too rare and second that while HMS Tamar has a flight deck, it virtually never has an embarked helicopter or capable UAS.

The UK has a vast overseas EEZ. They have never had a large number of OPVs. Generally, they have kept one ship in the Western North Atlantic/Bermuda/Caribbean and one ship in the South Atlantic/Falklands/New Georgia regions, not always an OPV. Their overseas territories in the Indian, Pacific, and Mid Atlantic Oceans seldom, if ever, see a patrol vessel. It does seem the British are starting to recognize the utility of these little ships, but I don’t expect them to build any more.

When operating in these overseas EEZs, patrol vessels are generally not supported by land based maritime patrol aircraft.

The River class Batch 2 are large enough to support a helicopter but have no hangar. A helicopter can help search over the horizon, but they are not as helpful as might be thought, because it is difficult to get more than four hours a day search time (two, two hour sorites). While on WHEC-726 I once calculated the embarked helicopter was increasing our effective area searched by about 40%.

Though it would lack some of the operational flexibility of an embarked helicopter, a robust UAS detachment could provide an even better search capability at a relatively low cost.

“Navy Expands Unmanned Operations to 4th Fleet” –Defense One

GULF OF AQABA (Feb. 13, 2022) The U.S. Coast Guard Sentinel-class cutter USCGC Glen Harris (WPC 1144) sails near a U.S sail drone explorer during the International Maritime Exercise/Cutlass Express (IMX) 2022, Feb. 13, 2022. IMX/CE 2022 is the largest multinational training event in the Middle East, involving more than 60 nations and international organizations committed to enhancing partnerships and interoperability to strengthen maritime security and stability. (U.S. Army photo by Cpl. DeAndre Dawkins)

Defense One reports,

“Drones are heading to the southern waters of 4th Fleet, which will follow 5th Fleet’s pioneering experiments with unmanned craft in the Middle East, Navy Secretary Carlos Del Toro announced Tuesday at the Navy League’s 2023 Sea-Air-Space Conference.”

This is great, and not unexpected, but I noted two things that concern me. First there was not mention of making this an international effort, as has been the case in 5th Fleet, and second, that they want to start in the Caribbean where we already have excellent maritime domain awareness, instead of the eastern Pacific drug transit zone where these are really needed.

Del Toro added, “it’s fair to say however, you want to start small and build upon it, obviously. And so you know, focus perhaps on the Caribbean Basin first, and then expand beyond that in the future.”

I can see that they would be more comfortable operating UxVs in the Caribbean, because it is closer to home, but in the Eastern Pacific we could look at Uncrewed Surface Vessels (USV) using acoustic sensors to help detect semisubmersibles. This is something that is not being done in 5th Fleet so it would provide a different sensor and target set and perhaps an opportunity to cross over some of the learning to ASW.

Of course, most of the 4th Fleet’s surface ships are Coast Guard Cutters.

“Video: Interview With VADM Cooper On TF 59 Milestones, US 5th Fleet” –Naval News

Naval News provides a video of an interview with 5th Fleet/NAVCENT commander VAdm Charles Bradford (Brad) Cooper II. In addition to the video above, the Naval News post provides a transcript of the interview (always appreciated).

The video provides more than talking heads. There are snippets of video showing the operation of unmanned systems and the people mentioned.

PATFORSWA Webber class cutters show up in the video three times.

Task Force 59 is an exciting development. It appears likely this model will be replicated in other areas including with the 4th Fleet in the Drug Transit Zone. Hopefully the Coast Guard is taking the opportunity to learn as much as possible from these operations. If the Coast Guard does not have a Coast Guard R&D liaison to Task Force 59 we are missing a good bet.

221207-N-NO146-1001 ARABIAN GULF (Dec. 7, 2022) An Aerovel Flexrotor unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) takes off from U.S. Coast Guard fast response cutter USCGC Emlen Tunnell (WPC 1145) transiting the Arabian Gulf, Dec. 7. U.S. 5th Fleet’s Task Force 59 launched the UAV during Digital Horizon, a three-week event focused on integrating new unmanned and artificial intelligence platforms, including 10 that are in the region for the first time. (U.S. Navy photo)


RFI: “Coast Guard seeks information on UAS capabilities” –CG-9

V-Bat from Martin UAV

The following information about a “request for information” appeared on the Acquisitions Directorate website. The FRI is six pages found here. Good to know the Coast Guard is still looking.

This is an extremely broad request. Group II and III extends from 21 to 1320 pounds (about 10 to 600 kilos). There is one particular revealing question (page 5, para. 13c) that may show more specifically what they are looking for, but it may not be limited to this.

“How many personnel will be required to support your system onboard a host cutter for a 90-day maritime deployment operating at 12 continuous flight hours per day?”

The list of “sensor capabilities available for Government use” is long and may include some surprises (page 2 and 3).

a. EO/IR target detection?
b. Surface search radar?
c. Sub-surface target detection?
d. High resolution bioluminescence detection?
e. Maritime Wide-Area Search (MWAS) radar?
f. Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR)?
g. Light and or Visual Detection and Ranging?
h. Chemical, Biological, and Radiological (CBR) sensors or other sensors to detect hazardous materials and/or toxic industrial chemicals?
i. Radio Frequency and Radio direction finding (covering at least 406 MHz EPIRB and marine band VHF-FM frequencies)?
i. An ability to relay audio communications to the host cutter?
j. Does your system utilize lasers?
i. If so, what is the classification of the laser (Class 1, 2, 3A/R, 3B, or 4)?
ii. Does the laser meet the performance requirements of Title 21 CFR §1040.10, Performance Standards for Light Emitting Products also known as the Federal Laser Product Performance Standard (FLPPS)?
iii. What is the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) accession number for the laser system?
iv. If your laser cannot fully comply with the FLPPS, have you sought a variance through the FDA?
k. A sensor to detect lasers pointed at the UAS?
l. A multi-spectral or hyper-spectral sensor?
m. An automated object alerting and detection capability?
n. Any other sensor that would be relevant and beneficial to the USCG’s ability to conduct its statutory missions?
o. What are the standards for the sensors listed above? Please list what they are based on (Example: Joint Interface Control Document (JICD), Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers (IEEE), and Intelligence Community Directive (ICD)).
p. What are the data formats of each sensor listed above?

Coast Guard seeks information on UAS capabilities

The Coast Guard is conducting additional market research on Group 2 and Group 3 unmanned aircraft system (UAS) capabilities, sensors and payloads through a request for information (RFI) released Jan. 19.

The Coast Guard continues to respond to new challenges and threats in the maritime domain, so it is critical to have a comprehensive understanding of capabilities that are potentially available through the UAS commercial marketplace. The goal of this market research is to learn about the most recent advancements pertaining to system and service commerciality, performance and sensor capabilities.

The RFI is open to all vendors. Vendors who did not respond to an August 2022 RFI seeking information on the ability of small businesses to meet specific Coast Guard UAS requirements may provide that information as part of their response to this RFI.

The RFI is available here. One question needs to be answered by 1 p.m. EST Feb. 3; the rest of the responses are due by 1 p.m. Feb. 21.

For more information: Unmanned Aircraft Systems Program page

“The More ‘Eyes On The Water’, The Better” –Marine News

221207-N-NO146-1001 ARABIAN GULF (Dec. 7, 2022) An Aerovel Flexrotor unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) takes off from U.S. Coast Guard fast response cutter USCGC Emlen Tunnell (WPC 1145) transiting the Arabian Gulf, Dec. 7. U.S. 5th Fleet’s Task Force 59 launched the UAV during Digital Horizon, a three-week event focused on integrating new unmanned and artificial intelligence platforms, including 10 that are in the region for the first time. (U.S. Navy photo)

Marine News has an interesting story that discusses both PATFORSWA’s operations using the recently arrived Webber class WPCs and the recent Digital Horizon 2022 exercise. There is also a bit of a tie in between the two in that at least one WPC was operating as part of Task Force 59, the 5th Fleet element charged with operating unmanned systems. We have heard a bit about the exercise before, but the list of participants in the graphic below seems particularly revealing.

Graphic illustration depicting the unmanned systems that participated in exercise Digital Horizon.

“Task Force 59 Launches Aerial Drone from Coast Guard Ship in Middle East” –NAVCENT

221207-N-NO146-1001 ARABIAN GULF (Dec. 7, 2022) An Aerovel Flexrotor unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) takes off from U.S. Coast Guard fast response cutter USCGC Emlen Tunnell (WPC 1145) transiting the Arabian Gulf, Dec. 7. U.S. 5th Fleet’s Task Force 59 launched the UAV during Digital Horizon, a three-week event focused on integrating new unmanned and artificial intelligence platforms, including 10 that are in the region for the first time. (U.S. Navy photo)

Below is a December 07, 2022, news release by U.S. Naval Forces Central Command / U.S. 5th Fleet Public Affairs.

To me this is really exciting news. The Webber class has been doing some great work at surprising long distances, performing most of the functions of a medium endurance cutter. Their primary weakness as a patrol ship has been the lack of an organic search aircraft. I assume this UAS is operating from the area on the O-1 deck forward of the bridge that had been designated for vertical replenishment.

This from Aerovel, maker of the Flexrotor (follow the link for dimensions and performance),

Boasting a flight endurance of more than 30 hours and a 120-kilometer communications range, this all-weather aircraft has operated in some of the harshest conditions on earth. Flexrotor is excellent for expeditionary missions. Needing only a 20’ by 20’ area for launch and recovery, it takes off and lands vertically and easily transitions into horizontal wing-borne flight. The STUAS flies completely automatically after takeoff, with no pilot intervention needed. Flexrotor quickly assembles for flight and can be boxed and stowed in minutes by a single person.

The Flexrotor is, in most respects, in the same class as the Scan Eagles that are currently being deployed on National Security Cutters. It is not as fast as Scan Eagle but apparently comparable or greater endurance and requires no launch or recovery equipment. These systems may actually constitute an improvement, compared to searches by manned helicopters, because of their much greater endurance and sensors like the VIDAR used on Coast Guard Scan Eagle UAS..

Task Force 59 Launches Aerial Drone from Coast Guard Ship in Middle East

By By U.S. Naval Forces Central Command / U.S. 5th Fleet Public Affairs | December 07, 2022

MANAMA, Bahrain —

A U.S. Navy unmanned task force in the Middle East launched an aerial drone from a U.S. Coast Guard vessel operating the Arabian Gulf, Dec. 7.

U.S. 5th Fleet’s Task Force 59 launched an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) from USCGC Emlen Tunnell (WPC 1145), marking a first for the task force with a U.S. Coast Guard vessel since the task force’s establishment in September 2021.

The launch also demonstrated close collaboration between the U.S. Coast Guard and Task Force 59 as U.S. 5th Fleet rapidly integrates unmanned systems and artificial intelligence to enhance monitoring of regional waters.

Task Force 59 is conducting Digital Horizon, a three-week event focused on integrating new unmanned and artificial intelligence platforms, including 10 that are in the region for the first time.

“Each day during Digital Horizon we have pushed to discover new capabilities, fast,” said Capt. Michael Brasseur, commodore of Task Force 59. “I am so proud of the team for their steadfast commitment to not only imagine new possibilities, but to deliver them.”

An Aerovel Flexrotor successfully took off and landed vertically aboard Emlen Tunnell, showcasing close collaboration between Navy, Coast Guard and industry partners to advance technology integration.

“We are so excited to be part of Digital Horizon and play a critical role by helping integrate new technologies into the fleet,” said Lt. Patrick Kelly, Emlen Tunnell’s commanding officer. “I am so proud of the crew for their dedication, commitment and professionalism, which made today’s success possible.”

The Flexrotor can support intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) missions day and night using a daylight or infrared camera to provide a real-time video feed.

In addition to providing ISR capability, UAVs like the Flexrotor enable Task Force 59 to enhance a resilient communications network used by unmanned systems to relay video footage, pictures and other data to command centers ashore and at sea.

U.S. 5th Fleet established Task Force 59 more than 14 months ago. Since its launch, the task force has deployed a suite of new unmanned systems while integrating artificial intelligence at operational hubs in Jordan and Bahrain.

Emlen Tunnell is one of the Coast Guard’s newest Sentinel-class fast response cutters forward-deployed to Bahrain where U.S. 5th Fleet is headquartered. The ship helps ensure maritime security and stability across the Middle East.

Portugal to Build a New Type of Ship–UxS Carrier

The “plataforma naval multifuncional” (multifunctional naval platform). Portuguese Navy image.

It is not often an entirely new category of ship emerges, but this seems to be the case. Perhaps it was inevitable, but it looks like the Portuguese may be the first to make it happen–a specialized, built for purpose, unmanned systems mothership.

Wish the specs in the lower right above were readable. 

First heard about this ship from Cdr. Salamander. He has some interesting ideas about how such a ship could be used. It is part research ship, part disaster response vessel, and, significantly for the Coast Guard, part Offshore Patrol Vessel. There is more about the ship from Naval News. It is not particularly large, with a crew of about 90 and accommodations for another 100. The cost is reportedly about $100M US, much less than the cost of the Offshore Patrol Cutter. Judging by the size of the helicopter (reportedly an NH-90) on the model, it appears to be 100 to 110 meters (328-360 feet) in length, about the length of the OPC, maybe less. It must be pretty broad if that is an MQ-1C Gray Eagle on the deck. The Span of the Gray Eagle is 56 ft (17 m), but it just does not look like it is in scale. Maybe they have a European sourced UAS in mind. Beam looks to be about 20 to 22 meters based on my presumptions about the length, that is 66 to 72 feet. Those proportions are similar to those of the 6,615 ton Canadian Harry DeWolf class Arctic Offfshore Patrol Ship, 103.6 m (339 ft 11 in) long and a beam of 19 m (62 ft 4 in). By comparison, the beam of both the NSC and OPC is 16m or 54 feet.

The thing that makes this ship totally unique is the runway and ski-jump designed expressly for fixed wing unmanned air systems.

Artist rendering of MQ-9B STOL landing on a big-deck amphibious assault vessel. Photo: Courtesy of General Atomics Aeronautical.

What might make this very useful is the newly developed STOL version of the MQ-9B with shorter span, high lift, folding wings.

Not sure I like this particular design. It is not clear how many UAS and helicopters can be carrier or if there is hangar space. The island is unnecessarily thick and looks too far forward. No indication of speed or endurance. The speed in unlikely to exceed 20 knots, between 16 and 18 knots seems likely, but the concept is novel. Look forward to seeing the ship in final form.

Late Addition: 

After posting this on Facebook, I got some additional information. This is a Google translate from Portuguese. Thanks to Pedro Mateus.

MULTI-PURPOSE PLATFORM SHIP Lisbon, Portugal June 20, 2022 On June 20, 2022, the Portuguese Navy launched a tender limited by simplified prior qualification, via procedure no. of a Multipurpose Vessel/Platform (N-PM), with an execution period of up to 3 years (with delivery until December 2025), for a base price of 94.5 million Euros.

This Multipurpose Ship/Platform (N-PM) will have a total length, between perpendiculars, of 100 meters, a maximum beam (at flight deck level) of 20 meters and a maximum draft of 7.5 meters. It will follow STANAG 4154 (Ed 3) standards and will be able to maintain the operation of lowering and hoisting vessels in sea state 5 on the Douglas Scale. Its garrison will be composed of 1 commander, 7 officers, 8 sergeants and 29 soldiers, in a total of 45 elements. It has accommodation sized up to 28 officers, 30 sergeants and 32 enlisted men, for a total of 90 elements (in addition to the commander). It will be dimensioned for a range of 45 days at a cruising speed of 10 knots.

The N-PM shall comprise a set of aviation facilities including, among others, a flight deck (a ski-jump runway, a spot for helicopter operation, with lighting system, GPI, etc.), hangar for a helicopter (with support for hydraulic maintenance stations, overhead crane, technical lighting, etc.) and a hangar for unmanned aircraft. In terms of organic helicopter, it should support the Lynx MK95A and NH90 aircraft (either in “spot” or in hangar) and EH101 (“spot”). The flight deck must allow the operation of different types of unmanned aircraft, commonly known as “drones” (Ogassa OGS42, Tekever AR3, etc.), as well as all the support required for vertical refueling operations (VERTREP).

Within the scope of semi-rigid vessels, the N-PM will have 3 vessels: a vessel with
SOLAS (“Safety of Life at Sea”) certification for operation as “Fast
Rescue Boat”, with a power of not less than 250 hp; and two non-cooperative approach vessels, with capacity for 8 equipped soldiers, with a maximum speed of 35 knots or higher and a minimum autonomy of 60 nautical miles, for inspection missions , policing, combating drug trafficking, assault and support for a small embarked force.

Following the good practices and installation and operation recommendations of the “Alliance of European Research Fleets” (EUROFLEET), in terms of support systems for scientific research, the N-PM will be designed to be able to operate subsurface Unmanned Vehicles (VENTs) and remotely operated vehicles – “Remotely Operated Vehicle” (ROV). It will have a sensor pavilion (“drop keel”) for the installation of scientific and acoustic sensors; a large volume “Rosette” CTD system (for deep water sampling, with probe capable of operating up to 6,000 m); an MVP system, “Moving Vessel Profiler”, capable of operating up to 700 meters deep with the ship sailing at 8 knots; an “Acoustic Doppler Current Profiler” (ADCP); a “Global Acoustic Positioning System” (GAPS), capable of operating up to 4,000 meters deep. In addition to these organic systems, the N-PM will have the capacity and integration for several other non-organic systems (Piston Corer – Calypso, Vibrocorer, Box Corer, Multi Corer, etc.) as well as all operating and support winches.

Under an integrated architecture of command and control, platform management, and digital information processing and management systems, this N-PM will have a set of navigation systems (IBS, DDU, TACAN, Secure GPS, etc.), with navigation radar surveillance systems, combined warning radar (ARPA capability, “Automatic Radar Plotting Aid” and IMO certification; ECM and Anti-Jamming) and IFF/W-AIS identification systems, as well as underwater surveillance systems (bathythermograph; support for XBT/XSV probe used in the Navy (XBT4, XBT5, XBT7 and MK-8 XBT/XSV) or CTD type probes). In terms of external communications, it will have, among others, satellite communication systems SATCOM and MILSATCOM, GMDSS, submarine telephone, SART, EPIRB and ICCS.

In terms of armament, the N-PM will be equipped, at least, with 4 “softmounts” for a Browning M2 .50 heavy machine gun, with a firing range limiter and respective accessories, and a base, with ballistic protection for the Browning part and respective operator; and with 2 pieces of Hotchkiss salvo. The N-PM will be equipped with magazines and armories capable of storing various portable weapons, ammunition, pyrotechnic material and demolition material and respective detonators.

Technical drawing and 3D model via the Portuguese Navy Ships Directorate
Editing and composition by “Espada & Escudo”

“U.S. Blames Iran for Drone Attack on Tanker Near Oman” –USNI

Shahed 136 drones. Iranian military photo

US Naval Institute’s News Service reports,

U.S. Central Command and Israeli officials are blaming Iran for a Tuesday attack on an oil tanker linked to an Israeli billionaire off the coast of Oman.

Tanker Pacific Zircon was 150 miles off the coast of Oman when what U.S. officials said was an unmanned aerial vehicle hit the ship at about 3:30 p.m. local time, according to the shipping company.

Interestingly this second attack was on a ship linked to Idan Ofer, brother of the Israeli billionaire, Eyal Ofer, linked to the tanker, Mercer Street, attacked in a similar manner in July 2021.

The latest attack did not result in any injuries, unlike the earlier attack that resulted in the death of two crewmembers. Both attacks occured South of Oman in the Northern Indian Ocean.

“Ukraine Unleashes Mass Kamikaze Drone Boat Attack On Russia’s Black Sea Fleet Headquarters” –The Drive

Russian frigate Admiral Makarov

The Drive reports, it appears Ukraine made a mass attack of unmanned air and surface craft on Russia’s primary naval base in the Black Sea, Sevastopol (Ukraine is not claiming responsibility). There seems to be confirmation from Russia that minor damage was done to a minesweeper, but other reports indicate a relatively new frigate, the Admiral Markarov, serving as flagship of the Black Sea Fleet, may also have been damaged. Video in the report shows a very close approach to a frigate of the same class, apparently by an unmanned surface craft before the video ends abruptly.

Russia is also claiming that the UK was involved in the planning of the attack.

While unlikely, how to defend against such  attacks probably should be in the Coast Guard’s skill set. Force protection and harbor defense are potential missions.