Switchblade “Loitering Munition”/Puma–Switchblade Sensor to Shooter Capability

Puma-Switchblade Sensor to Shooter Capability

AeroVironment recently conducted a demonstration for the Navy, of how its systems might counter swarming Fast Inshore Attack Craft (FIAC). If the combination of systems works as advertised, it may be exactly what the Coast Guard needs to counter the small, fast, highly maneuverable end of the terrorists surface vessel attack threat spectrum. It is also small enough that it might fit on something as small as a Response Boat-Medium (RB-M). It would certainly fit on a WPB.

It appears to be precise and have minimal chance of collateral damage. It also has a man in the loop, allowing an attack to be aborted or redirected. It is also supposed to have a capability against other drones, presumably smaller, slower ones at low altitude. The combination consists of a Puma UAS to provide target detection, classification, and targeting, and the Switchblade “Lethal Miniature Aerial Missile System” (LMAMS). Switchblade is a missile but a very different one. It is an electric-powered, propeller driven, suicide drone. 

The Coast Guard has already tested the Puma on USCGC Healey, and USCGC Chock. The Canadians have chosen it for their Coastal Defense Ships. It has an endurance of up to three hours.

The Puma and Switchblade both use the same control system. 

The Switchblade, seen being launched in the photo below, is very small. It is less than two feet long and weighs less than six pounds. The manufacturer’s data sheet is here.

Switchblade loitering munition

They have introduced a six-pack launch system. It weighs only 160 pounds fully loaded and is only 28″ wide, 34″ deep, and 28″ tall.

AeroVironment six cell Switchblade Launcher

Where might we use these? While these systems might become ubiquitous, if they work as advertised, there are a couple of units that stand out as having the most immediate need.

Since the system is portable, it might be assigned to deployable teams.

I would be very curious about the Navy’s view of the demonstration.

 

Coast Guard Contract for sUAS for Bertholf Class Cutters

Insitu ScanEagle small Unmanned Air System (sUAS)

The Acquisitions Directorate (CG-9) has announced a contract award to Insitu, to provide a capability to operate a small unmanned air system from the Bertholf class National Security Cutters.

“…The service contract covers installation and deployment of sUAS for approximately 200 hours per 30-day operational patrol period.

“Installations of sUAS capability on NSCs are planned at a rate of about two per year. Total value of the contract including the seven option years is approximately $117 million.”

It does not say which airframe Insitu will be providing. They have more than one, but it is likely to be Scan Eagle which was the small UAS used by Stratton during the trials.

200 hours per 30 day operational patrol period might be 20 sorties of 10 hours each or 25 sorties of 8 hours, but in all probability it will include a few shorter flights to provide documentation and over-watch during boardings. 

The Coast Guard is contracting out the operation and maintenance of the systems rather than training Coastguardsmen to perform these functions. Hopefully, in time that will change.

Also there is no reason these systems should not also operate off of smaller cutters and icebreakers. Operating from 210s should be relatively easy, although it might preclude operating a helicopter, and with a little engineering they could probably operate from Webber class WPCs.

If you want to trace some of the progress on this issue, here are some earlier posts.

Coast Guard Releases Request For Proposal For Long Range UAS Tech Demonstration

3-View line drawing and dimensions of MQ-1B Predator UAV, – Department of the Air Force, Engineering Technical Letter (ETL) 09-1: Airfield Planning and Design Criteria for Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS), 28 Sept 2009

The Acquisitions Directorate has issued a Request for Proposal for demonstration of a Long Range/Ultra-Long Endurance (LR/U-LE) Unmanned Air System (UAS).

The Statement of Work (Attachment_1_-_Statement_of_Work_.pdf) indicates demonstration is expected to take place at Eglin Air Force Base. “The period of performance will be one year from the date of award which is estimated to occur in September 2018.”

The Requirements

The sensor package will include Electro-optical (EO) and Infrared (IR) Full Motion Video (FMV), Maritime Surveillance Radar, Radio Frequency/Direction Finding (RF/DF) sensor, with tactical communications radio/data link.

Minimum airframe performance in the full up configuration include 50 knot patrol speed, 15,000 foot ceiling, 24 hour endurance.

Takeoff and Recovery Wind Limits are 20 knot headwind, seven knot crosswind, and up to five knot gusts.

For identification the airframe will be equipped with Air Traffic Control Radar Beacon System, Identification Friend or Foe, Mark XII/Mark XIIA, Systems (AIMS) certified (AIMS 03-1000A) Mode 3 A/C transponder with “IDENT” capability.

Commentary

Presumably this will result in a RFP for a land based LR/U-LE UAS, but probably not before FY2021.

The specifications make it clear the Coast Guard is not looking at obtaining their own version of the Navy’s Broad Area Maritime Surveillance (BAMS) MQ-4C Triton UAS.

I would note that the demonstration provides no slack for trade-offs between search width, speed, and endurance to determine total area searchable. The 24 hour endurance is fixed. There is also no dash speed requirement. To me this suggest that the system is more for tracking than searching, although it could also do that as well.

There is also no mention of ViDAR as an alternative to Radar.

Given distance to operating area and the relatively slow speed of these assets, to maintain an asset on scene is going to require more than one sortie per day, probably more like two per day. That suggest that a 24/7/365 on scene capability will require five or six airframes.

Schiebel’s CAMCOPTER S-100 VTOL UAV and the Oceanwatch PT-8 Sensor

A recent announcement that the PT-8 Oceanwatch image-based wide area maritime search system has been integrated with the Schiebel Camcopter S-100 vertical take-off and landing UAS, prompted me to take another look at this system. (Manufacturer’s brochure here.)

There have been numerous improvement since the introduction of the S-100 over a decade ago. It has been integrated with more sensors including a synthetic aperture radar. A heavy fuel engine compatible with  JP-5, Jet A-1 or JP-8 jet fuels is now optional, as a replacement for the original gasoline engine. Using an auxiliary fuel tank it now possible to extend its normal six hour endurance to up to 10 hours.

This Oceanwatch PT-8 sounds a lot like a “ViDAR” (Visual Detection and Ranging) that has been tested by the Coast Guard.

The S-100 is very widely used. Operators or those who are buying the system include the German Navy, the French Navy, the Italian Navy, the Australian Navy, and the Chinese Navy. The Russian Coast Guard uses a license built version.

They have been testing sense and avoid capability.

The S-100 at 440 pounds max take-off is about nine times greater than that of the 48.5 pound ScanEagle, but less than a seventh that of the MQ-8B Fire Scout (3,150 lb). It doesn’t have the  endurance of the ScanEagle, but with a ten times larger payload (75 lb vice 7.5 lb), given better sensors, it may be able to search a larger area per sortie. With a higher speed (120 knots max vice 80) it can get to a probability area and search it faster.

 

Coast Guard Floor Presentations at Sea-Air-Space 2018

3-View line drawing and dimensions of MQ-1B Predator UAV, – Department of the Air Force, Engineering Technical Letter (ETL) 09-1: Airfield Planning and Design Criteria for Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS), 28 Sept 2009

The Acquisitions Directorate (CG-9) web site has three links that provide information presented at the Navy League’s 2018 Sea-Air-Space Symposium.

Industry Input Sought On UAS Technology Demonstration–CG-9

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.

Below is a report from the Acquisitions Directorate (CG-9):

Industry Input Sought On UAS Technology Demonstration

April 6, 2018

The Coast Guard on March 26 released a draft solicitation for long range/ultra-long endurance (LR/U-LE) unmanned aircraft system (UAS) technology demonstration and flight services requirements. Industry is invited to submit questions, comments and feedback on draft items including the statement of work, proposal requirements and evaluation methodology. The draft solicitation is available here.

The draft solicitation is part of congressionally directed market research to examine the feasibility, costs and benefits of using land-based LR/U-LE UAS to conduct intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance missions. Responses are due by April 9 at 5 p.m. EST. The formal solicitation for the contract is planned for release later this spring.

 

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

As noted earlierThe Air Force has recently decided to retire all their MQ-1 Predator UAVs replacing them with the MQ-9 Reaper. Perhaps we could get a near term interim capability and gain valuable experience by taking over some of the Air Force Predators and modifying them for a Maritime role..

3-View line drawing and dimensions of MQ-1B Predator UAV, – Department of the Air Force, Engineering Technical Letter (ETL) 09-1: Airfield Planning and Design Criteria for Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS), 28 Sept 2009

Canadian Navy Buying Small UAS For Coast Defense Ships

HMCS Saskatoon, a Kingston class Coastal Defence Vessel, near Esquimalt, British Columbia and A CH-149 Cormorant helicopter that is practicing personnel transfers.
Date March 2007
Photo by Rayzlens

Seapower Magazine (on-line) is reporting that Canada will equip its Coastal Defense ships with the Puma AE RQ-20B small unmanned air system (sUAS). These ships of the Kingston class, are a bit smaller than the Coast Guard’s 210 foot cutters and have no flight deck.

These ships frequently cooperate with the Coast Guard in drug interdiction operations, with a USCG Law Enforcement Detachment (LEDET) on board.

The Coast Guard has some experience with the Puma UAS as it has flown from USCGC Healey, and from USCGC Chock as part of a demonstration

John Ferguson and Chris Thompson, Unmanned Aircraft System operators for AeroVironment, release a Puma All Environment UAS from the flight deck of the Coast Guard Cutter Healy during an exercise in the Arctic Aug. 18, 2014. (U.S. Coast Guard Photo)

Below can be seen the Mantis i45 sensor as installed on the Puma sUAS

Mantis i45 sensor

This might be a candidate for a sUAS to operate from the Webber class WPCs. I can see some useful scenarios, such as providing overwatch while doing a law enforcement boarding, but I still think we need something more capable of providing a more persistent and more wide-ranging search. Still a combination of a sUAS like this and the TALONS (Towed Airborne Lift of Naval Systems) might be very effective. The recovery methods I have seen so far, for this system, either landing on the flight deck of an icebreaker or landing in the water don’t seem satisfactory.

Still I would suggest we take a look at what the Canadians are doing. We might want to send an R&D rep who has participated in our previous examination of sUAS to ride one of these ships during the last half of a drug interdiction patrol, so they can get input from both the Canadians and the LEDET.