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.
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.
“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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
FlightGlobal reports that the Coast Guard is expected to have Scan Eagle deployed about four Bertholf class cutters by the end of 2019. The capability will be provided by Insitu contractors using three Scan Eagle UAS from each cutter to provide up to 200 flight hours per month..
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.
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.
Pulled the following from DefenseOne’s Global Business Brief, an email blast.
Insitu Eyes ScanEagle Exports
Insitu says U.S. Coast Guard plans to expand the use of its ScanEagle surveillance drone might draw international customers.
“It’s an old adage: ‘as goes the Coast Guard, so goes the rest of the navies around the world’,” said Ron Tremain, who works in business development at the Boeing subsidiary, in an interview on Monday. “What I see happening: not only are we already working with a number of international navies, but I see more international navies patterning their [unmanned aerial system] operations after the Coast Guard.”
ScanEagle drones flown from the USCGC Stratton over the past year and a half have helped in the seizure of an estimated $1.8 billion in cocaine. Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Karl Schultz, in March, announced plans to accelerate the installation of ScanEagle drones on all National Security Cutters and Offshore Patrol Cutters. Insitu — which owns and operates the Coast Guard’s ScanEagles — is installing the gear for controlling the drones on the service’s ships.
The U.S. Navy started using ScanEagles on its destroyers in 2005. Italy, Britain, Colombia, and Greece are among the international navies using the drone.
In recent weeks, the Federal Aviation Administration granted an Operational Certificate of Waiver or Authorization to allow Coast Guard ScanEagles to fly surveillance missions near the U.S.-Mexico border, Tremain said.
“It’s the very first step in normalizing UAS operations,” he said. “Although a very, very small step, it is significant.”
GULF OF MEXICO (Feb. 10, 2013) Members of the RQ-21A Small Tactical Unmanned Air System (STUAS) test team transport the RQ-21A across the flight deck of the amphibious transport dock USS Mesa Verde (LPD 19) after its first flight at sea. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Sabrina Fine/Released) 130210-N-NB538-195
The Navy League’s Magazine Seapower reports that “a synthetic aperture/ground moving target Indicator Radar Payload and has been given the prototype designation AN/DPY-2()” for the MQ-21 Blackjack.
The Coast Guard has always wanted their unmanned air system (UAS) to have a radar system and the Scan Eagle that the Coast Guard has contracted for has been tested with a radar from this manufacturer. I am not sure if Coast Guard Scan Eagles are radar equipped, but, if not, it appears that radar equipped small UAS are a definite possibility.
The RQ-21 Blackjack is, like the Scan Eagle, made by Boeing Insitu. It is heavier, 135 lb (61 kg) vs 48.5 lb (22 kg) max takeoff weight, with a correspondingly larger payload weight, but like the Scan Eagle it launches from the same launch and recovery systems.
The radar may be a bit large for Scan Eagle, but apparently not for the Blackjack.
The NSP-5 delivers high-performance capabilities despite its small size, weight and power characteristics. Commercially, the NSP-5 is available in a standard pod configuration that measures 5.4 inches (13.7 centimeters) in diameter and 45.3 inches (115 centimeters) in length, weighs 16 pounds (7.3 kilograms) and consumes 150 watts of power.