RfP for Services/Textron’s Aerosonde sUAS

Seapower, a Navy League Magazine and web site, reports, the Coast Guard issued a Request for Proposal on February 7, for “Indefinite Delivery Indefinite Quantity Competitive and Unrestricted Commercial Services Combined Synopsis/Solicitation for Unmanned Aircraft Systems for National Security Cutters (NSCs) for the United States Coast Guard.” Proposals are due by March 9. (Pretty quick turn around.)

In particular they identify two competing systems, the Scan Eagle from Insitu and Textron Systems Aerosonde sUAS. We have been talking about the Scan Eagle for almost seven years. Also the Coast Guard has been using Scan Eagle operationally, but since we have not talked about the Aerosonde I thought, perhaps we should take a look.

There is a pdf brochure on the Aerosonde here.

The Aerosonde is a bit bigger than the Scan Eagle, but if a larger aircraft is needed then Insitu has the option of offering the RQ-21 Blackjack which is in the Navy’s inventory. 

For a rough comparison, Scan Eagle has a max Take Off Weight 44-48.5 lb. (22 kg), Aerosonde has a max TO weight of 80 lb (36.4 kg), and the RQ-21A Blackjack a max TO weight of 135 lb (61.4 kg).

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. Mesa Verde is underway conducting exercises. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Sabrina Fine/Released) 130210-N-NB538-195

“The U.S. Coast Guard customer has expressed unique technology and operational requirements in its Small Unmanned Aircraft Systems (SUAS) RfP,”  so we are not simply going to buy what the Navy already has. Using the usual optical systems is like looking through a straw. I expect the Coast Guard is going to want an area search capability, radar or perhaps ViDAR.

Figuring out how best to use these is going to be an interesting Operations Research problem. What search pattern? at what altitude? How far out can we fly these and still communicate and have the cutter provide sense and avoid to prevent a mid-air?

Drone Rescue

An interesting short video. Heard about this first from BBC. (Thanks to my wife.)

A drone reaches people in the water and drops an inflatable float. This might be useful as a response to a man-over-board, particularly if the drone were equipped with low light level/IR. The drone could not only drop a float but could also hold position over the person in the water until the ship can come back for a pick-up. A light on the drone might help.

Remote Control Boat and Drone Attacks–USNI

US Naval Institute news service brings us a report of another unconventional attack by remote controlled boats, this time on a commercial tanker. We have seen this type of attack before, but apparently this was “at least the sixth time Houthis used remote-controlled boats to attack shipping and oil assets in the Red Sea, according to a tally of Saudi and Gulf region news reports.”

This report is buried in a report about a drone attack on Russian bases in Syria, but there are some interesting details.

The post reports an examination of a captured remote controlled boat,

The 30-foot long patrol boat, originally manufactured by the UAE-based company Al Fattan Ship Industry, was one of at least 60 donated by the UAE Coast Guard to the Yemeni Navy before the civil war kicked off in 2015.
The boat’s control unit was connected to a remotely operated video camera and a Garmin GPS antenna, suggesting the operator was able to stream live footage of the boat’s progress during the attack, and was fitted with a Soviet-manufactured P-15 Termit anti-ship missile and shaped explosive charge.

The P-15 Termit is another designation for the Styx, an early Soviet anti-ship missile. It is 5.8 m (19 ft) long and weighs 2,580 kg (5,690 lb).

SS-N-2 Styx/P-15 Termit

In countering the sUAV attack, the Russians used both hard and soft kill. The Pantsir-S reportedly use to shoot down seven of the drones is a short range, combined gun and missile, anti-air system. Six more were brought down by electronic counter-measures.

According to the report, Putin said, “These aerial vehicles were disguised – I would like to stress that – as homemade. But it is obvious that some high-tech equipment was used,” Perhaps Putin is not aware, or simply refuses to acknowledge, how sophisticated hobby drone auto-pilots have become. All you need is Google Earth for targeting and you can set in way-points and altitudes and have it fly to any point within the range of the aircraft.

Ultra Long Range/Long Endurance UAS

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 Coast Guard Compass has a post on the Coast Guard’s investigation of possible future procurement of land based long-range and ultra-long endurance unmanned aircraft systems (LR/ULE UAS).

The 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..


ALCOAST–Short Range Unmanned Air Systems

160919-N-AT101-177 GULF OF MEXICO (Sept. 19, 2016) Cadet 1st Class Hanson Oxford, a student at the U.S. Air Force Academy, operates an unmanned aerial system aboard a rigid hull inflatable boat during exercise Black Dart, Sept. 19. Black Dart is the largest Department of Defense (DoD) live-fly, live-fire, counter Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) technology demonstration. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Maddelin Angebrand/Released)

There is a new ALCOAST that addresses short range unmanned air system. I have reproduced it below.

These are the commonly available battery powered “drones” that generally cost a few hundred to a few thousand dollars. They must weigh less than 55 pounds (25 kilos). Unless restrictions are waived by the FAA, they can generally only be operated below 400 feet AGL (above ground level) during hours of day light and civil twilight.

Becoming a certified remote operator is not very difficult, particularly if you already a pilot. It is not a skill test, it is primarily about how to fit into the air space control system. The FAA has study material on line.


R 051700Z JAN 18
UNCLAS //N03710//
ALCOAST 004/18
C. COMDT (CG-7) memo 3700 of 15 May 2017
1. Short-Range UAS (SR-UAS) constitutes one of the most significant
new and emerging technologies available to the Coast Guard today. 
In support of the COMDT’s strategic commitment to invest in new
technologies, the Office of Aviation Forces (CG-711) is leveraging
opportunities to deliver this new technology to the field. Pursuant
to REF C, COMDT (CG-711) established the Group-1 UAS Prototype Program
Initiative (GUPPI) as a mechanism for testing SR-UAS use in the fleet
while simultaneously developing a sustainable Program of Record (PoR). 
GUPPI will develop and test potential capability solutions to
integrate, train, and standardize this technology.
2. The USCG recognizes that small, hand-launched SR-UAS have the
potential to be a highly effective and affordable tool for many
missions. In the future, SR-UAS may supplement or even replace
legacy capabilities in order to meet existing mission requirements. 
GUPPI will assist units in identifying mission requirements which
are more effectively met through the use of SR-UAS.  Ice
reconnaissance, post-storm survey, pollution response, antenna tower
inspection, search and rescue, and law enforcement are a small
sample of the potential uses of SR-UAS.
3. GUPPI is a pilot program that will provide SR-UAS capabilities to
meet the operational commander’s needs at the deck-plate level,
employing properly trained personnel to test potential SR-UAS
capability solutions. Simultaneously, SR-UAS remote pilots will
generate the doctrine, training, and TTP necessary to validate a
long-term PoR.  The GUPPI team, consisting of FAA-certified remote
pilots within COMDT (CG-711), will equip six fleet units with SR-UAS
and assist unit personnel with obtaining the necessary training and
certification to operate the device for authorized missions.
As operations progress and mature through 2018-2019, GUPPI membership
will expand and authority to approve SR-UAS operations will be
disseminated and delegated down to the appropriate level.  This
initiative will sunset once a formal PoR has been established to
fund and sustain the SR-UAS fleet. To understand our customers’
needs most effectively, I request that units forward any internally-
identified UAS requirements up their respective chains of command
for consideration by the mission managers and COMDT (CG-711). 
4. In August 2016, REF (A) established a viable certification method
and operating procedures for both public and private operators to
operate SR-UAS within the National Air Space.  GUPPI was founded to
explore potential avenues for Coast Guard operation of SR-UAS and
will likely incorporate large elements for REF (A) into REF (B). 
Unit personnel interested in obtaining their Part 107 Remote Pilot
certification are encouraged to visit the COMDT (CG-711) SR-UAS
Portal Page for further guidance: https://cg.portal.uscg.mil/units/
cg711/SR-UAS/default.aspx   Units interested in participating in
GUPPI shall route their request to COMDT (CG-711) through the
appropriate chain of command for consideration. 
5. In addition to GUPPI, units are authorized to contract select UAS
services from commercial vendors in order to obtain cost effective
near-term solutions to current capability gaps. Units are reminded
that the USCG should not acquire any property or retain any property
rights in the UAS or associated hardware, or technology under these
service contracts.
   a. Notify COMDT (CG-711) and the next level chain of command prior
to initiating any UAS contract obligations.
   b. Coast Guard units are authorized to seek photo or video imagery
services from commercial UAS operators, in accordance with established
contracting procedures.
The following apply for any UAS services:
1) The UAS may be used for photo or video imagery in support of infra-
structure inspections, environmental observation, pollution response,
post-storm survey, ice survey, communications support, and public relations. 
Commercial UAS support for other missions, including law enforcement,
intelligence, defense operations, or search and rescue requires explicit
COMDT (CG-711) and chain of command approval.
2) The UAS shall not be used to collect any Personally Identifiable
Information (PII).
3) CG units contracting for UAS services, and their servicing legal
offices, will ensure that the contract specifies that the commercial
UAS operator shall be solely responsible for the operation of the UAS
and compliance with applicable FAA laws and regulations.
4) CG units contracting for UAS services or flying organic UAS shall
contact the nearest CG AIRSTA and District (DM) to ensure that CG manned
aircrews are aware of the UAS operations and have a plan to deconflict
the airspace.
   c. Use of commercial UAS for missions not listed here or for any uses
other than capturing photo or video imagery requires further review
by COMDT (CG-711) and shall be forwarded for consideration. 
6. Units may also partner with local, State, or Federal government
agencies that operate UAS to obtain information from their UAS
operations in support of Coast Guard operations.
7. SR-UAS will require specific operator qualifications, airworthiness
certifications, and spectrum authority, at a minimum.  SR-UAS
operations could subject the USCG to liability for any associated
damage, injury, or death.  GUPPI is addressing these challenges
and policies by identifying a controlled, risk-mitigated, environment
for SR-UAS operational development.
8. The U.S. Army, Navy, and Marine Corps ceased all use of the prolific,
industry-standard DJI SR-UAS products on 02 August, 2017.  This
manufacturer of SR-UAS was found to have significant cyber security
concerns, and current USCG policy is in alignment with our DoD
counterparts. The Office of the Secretary of Defense plans to release
DoD-wide guidance shortly on which COTS systems will be authorized by
the DoD. 
9. The Research and Development Center and the Coast Guard Academy
currently have authorization from COMDT (CG-711) for UAS use in support
of education and research activities.  Units may request GUPPI team
support through their chain of command in support of field missions. 
Unless specifically provided in this ALCOAST, all other access to SR-UAS
by fleet units remains prohibited. 
10. POC is CDR Daniel Broadhurst, COMDT (CG-7114).
11. RDML M.P. Ryan, Assistant Commandant for Capability, sends.
12. Internet release is authorized.

Navy Ships to Return to the Drug War

USS Freedom (LCS-1)

The US Naval Institute reports, “SECNAV Memo: Navy Won’t Reactivate Perry Frigates for SOUTHCOM Mission; Will Send Ships to Fight Drug War in 2018.”

The Navy has not been providing ships in support of the SouthCom drug interdiction mission since the last USN Oliver Hazard Perry class frigate was decommissioned in 2015, but it looks like the Navy will return to the mission.

SecNav has directed the Navy provide four ship years in the form of either LCS or Spearhead-class expeditionary fast transports (T-EPF)(formerly called the Joint High Speed Vessel).. In addition, they will be bringing with them an unmanned air system, probably Scan Eagle.

They will certainly need Coast Guard Law Enforcement Detachments aboard, but the mention of Scan Eagle makes me wonder about the aviation support planned. No mention of helicopter or the larger MQ-8 UAS. Are they going to want a Coast Guard Airborne Use of Force helicopter detachment?

The Military Sealift Command joint high-speed vessel USNS Spearhead (JHSV 1) (Now T-EPF-1)conducted high-speed trials, reaching speeds of approximately 40 knots off the coast of Virginia. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Phil Beaufort/Released) 130820-N-ZO696-135

Armed Drones: The Coast Guard’s Next New Frontier?–USNI Proceedings

Coast Guard air crews unhook a Fire Scout UAS during a test on the Coast Guard Cutter Bertholf near Los Angeles, Dec. 5 2014. The Coast Guard Research and Development Center has been testing UAS platforms consistently for the last three years. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Luke Clayton)

The Dec. 2017 issue of the US Naval Institute Proceedings magazine has an excellent article, by LCdr Craig Allen, Jr., USCG, considering the possibility of the Coast Guard employing armed drone, specifically to assume the airborne use of force (AUF) role.

He considers both the pros and cons of taking this step, and along the way makes a compelling case that it is not only feasible but probably also desirable.  Additionally he suggests that drones may allow the Webber class WPCs to employ AUF.