Medium Altitude Long Endurance UAS, the Northrop Grumman Firebird

The Coast Guard has long talked about the need for a Medium Altitude, Long Endurance (MALE) land based unmanned aircraft. I have assumed the most likely contender was the MQ-9B, but it looks like there may be another contender, an Optionally Manned aircraft developed by Burt Rutan‘s Scaled Composites. This is the Northrop Grumman Firebird.

Airforce-Technology.com reports that during a recent almost 9,000 mile series of demonstration flights that,

“During the flight tests concluded in Florida, the Northrop team conducted a series of ‘manned maritime operational events’.

“These events comprised a four-sensor package that included two high-definition electro-optical/infra-red EO/IR sensors, a maritime configured multi-spectral sensor for small target detection, as well as an automatic identification system (AIS) receiver.”

I don’t think this maritime demonstration would have been for the Navy, since they are already committed to the jet powered MQ-4C Triton.

Apparently the Firebird is already in service with an unspecified Federal Agency. I would guess this is probably a DHS agency.

I was a bit surprised to see that the aircraft is powered by a typical general aviation aircraft engine, the Lycoming TO-540. That means it uses AvGas rather than the fuel typically used by Coast Guard turbine powered aircraft, but it also means that the fuel is available at virtually every airport and its maintenance is familiar to thousands of aircraft mechanics all over the world.

“Aviation upgrades night vision goggles” –MyCG

Below is a story from MyCG. Will the surface forces also get this upgrade?

Aviation upgrades night vision goggles

By Lt. Cmdr. Kyle Russell, MyCG Contributor

View through current ANVIS-9
View through white phosphorus AN/AVS-9

Coast Guard aviation is following the lead of the Department of Defense (DoD), and investing in more capable night vision goggles (NVG) for the fleet. These NVGs will increase the capabilities of our crews as they perform all night missions, especially the aviation use of force mission at HITRON, the rotary wing air intercept mission in Atlantic City, New Jersey, and shipboard deployments. 

The AN/AVS-9 white phosphor night vision goggles (WP-NVG) are a recent upgrade to the current generation of the ANVIS-9 NVG platform Coast Guard aircrews currently use. WP-NVG improvements consist of an improved image intensifier tube and is fully interchangeable with the legacy image intensifier tubes in current USCG aviation NVGs. This new technology provides improved resolution and a substantially higher figure of merit (FOM) (line pairs per millimeter x signal-to noise ratio) than the current ANVIS-9 system.  

The U.S. Army’s Aviation Research Lab (USAARL) and the U.S. Air Force Special Operations Command Flight Test Squadron conducted extensive testing on WP-NVGs based on demand from special operations aviation communities for improved night vision systems and the overwhelming justification stems from user surveys indicating increased resolution, comfort, and ability to identify objects.

Additional testing conducted by Coast Guard crews agreed with the DoD testers which ultimately led to the recapitalization of the fleet. The Aviation Logistics Center Engineering Services Division is currently managing the rollout efforts for the WP-NVGs and as of mid-March, 11 units have received new intensifier tubes, with a priority being given to rotary wing assets.  The fleet transition is estimated to be complete in the fall of 2021. 

“CMF: French Navy, CTF-150 make 5 drugs seizures in 6 days” –NavalToday.Com

NavalToday reported,

“French Marine Nationale ships have achieved five seizures of illicit drugs in just six days, whilst participating in a counter-narcotics focused operation under the command of Combined Maritime Forces’ (CMF) Canadian-led Combined Task Force (CTF) 150.”

Drug interdiction in the 5th Fleet Area of Responsibility. PATFORSWA probably had something to do with this. Information about CTF 150 here.

“FORCE MAJEURE: CHINA’S COAST GUARD LAW IN CONTEXT” –Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative

This Chinese coast guard ship is equipped with weapons believed to be 76-millimeter guns. © Kyodo

The Asia Transparency Initiative looks at China’s recent changes to their laws regarding use of deadly force by their Coast Guard, comparing it to the US and other regional coast guards.

Really the issue is not the authorities themselves, but rather China’s views of what is theirs and what is illegal, which deviate sharply from those of the international community.

 “Articles 20 and 21 are worrying not because they authorize unique powers for the CCG, but because they suggest a readiness to make use of those powers across all waters China claims within its jurisdiction. China makes a vast but purposely ambiguous claim to jurisdiction over almost the entire South and East China Seas. Based on those claims, Article 20 could easily be interpreted as authorizing the CCG to dismantle not only foreign outposts on the Spratlys, but even floating platforms and artificial islands in the reefs and open waters of its neighbors’ EEZs. And Article 21 could likewise authorize the CCG to expel Southeast Asian law enforcement, military, and other government vessels from their own EEZs. These authorities could be used to justify the use of force in the increasingly frequent standoffs between Chinese and Southeast Asian government vessels over oil and gas, fishing, and survey activity across the South China Sea.”

The analysis also suggests that use of force restrictions on the Philippine Coast Guard are unusually tight.

Thanks to Paul for bringing this to my attention.

Updated: “Report to Congress on Coast Guard Cutter Procurement” –CRS, 31 March, 2021

The Congressional Research Service has again updated their report on Coast Guard cutter procurement. (The link will always take you to the most recent edition of the report.) I have reproduced the summary in full below. I have applied emphasis by “bolding” some parts, but first some comments. 

As you will see below, the Congress is still keeping the option of NSC#12 open, and, in fact, they are asking the Coast Guard if there isn’t justification for it. 

“The Committee is disappointed that the Coast Guard has not officially conveyed to the Committee a determination on whether a twelfth NSC is required…” (Explanatory Statement, p. 25) “The Coast Guard is encouraged to officially convey a determination to the Committees as to whether a 12th vessel is needed.” (Conference, p. 25)

With the expansion of the Coast Guard’s support for distant missions, and the delays in the delivery of the OPCs, looks like we could make a good case for NSC#12.

Congress has asked for a reevaluation of our needs, 

SEC. 9422 (re. Elijah E. Cummings Coast Guard Authorization Act of 2020, p. 26). Report on fast response cutters, offshore patrol cutters, and national security cutters.
(a) In general.—Not later than 90 days after the date of the enactment of this Act, the Commandant shall submit to the Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation of the Senate and the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure of the House of Representatives a report on the combination of Fast Response Cutters, Offshore Patrol Cutters, and National Security Cutters necessary to carry out Coast Guard missions. 
(b) Elements.—The report required by subsection (a) shall include—
(1) an updated cost estimate for each type of cutter described in such subsection; and (2) a cost estimate for a Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility outfitted to manage data in a manner equivalent to the National Security Cutter Sensitive Compartmented Information Facilities.

So far I have heard nothing to indicate the Coast Guard has complied with this request, which was enacted into law 92 days ago. This report and the determination of the requirement for NSC#12 may be tied up in DHS.

I assume the “…cost estimate for a Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility outfitted to manage data in a manner equivalent to the National Security Cutter Sensitive Compartmented Information Facilities” refers to adding this capability to the Offshore Patrol Cutter. 


Summary

The Coast Guard’s program of record (POR), which dates to 2004, calls for procuring 8 National Security Cutters (NSCs), 25 Offshore Patrol Cutters (OPCs), and 58 Fast Response Cutters (FRCs) as replacements for 90 aging Coast Guard high-endurance cutters, medium-endurance cutters, and patrol craft. The Coast Guard’s proposed FY2021 budget requested a total of $597 million in procurement funding for the NSC, OPC, and FRC programs; Congress provided a total of $837 million for FY2021, with the additional $240 million being for the FRC program.

NSCs are the Coast Guard’s largest and most capable general-purpose cutters; they are replacing the Coast Guard’s 12 Hamilton-class high-endurance cutters. NSCs have an estimated average procurement cost of about $670 million per ship. Although the Coast Guard’s POR calls for procuring 8 NSCs to replace the 12 Hamilton-class cutters, Congress through FY2021 has fully funded 11 NSCs, including the 10th and 11th in FY2018. In FY2020, Congress provided $100.5 million for procurement of long lead time materials (LLTM) for a 12th NSC, so as to preserve the option of procuring a 12th NSC while the Coast Guard evaluates its future needs. The Coast Guard’s proposed FY2021 budget requested $31 million in procurement funding for activities within the NSC program; this request did not include further funding for a 12th NSC. The Coast Guard’s proposed FY2021 budget also proposed a rescission of $70 million of the $100.5 million that Congress provided for a 12th NSC, with the intent of reprogramming that funding to the Coast Guard’s Polar Security Cutter (PSC) program; Congress did not approve this request. Nine NSCs have entered service; the ninth was commissioned into service on March 19, 2021.

OPCs are to be less expensive and in some respects less capable than NSCs; they are intended to replace the Coast Guard’s 29 aged medium-endurance cutters. Coast Guard officials describe the OPC and PSC programs as the service’s highest acquisition priorities. OPCs have an estimated average procurement cost of about $411 million per ship. The first OPC was funded in FY2018. The Coast Guard’s proposed FY2021 budget requested $546 million in procurement funding for
the third OPC, LLTM for the fourth, and other program costs. On October 11, 2019, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), of which the Coast Guard is a part, announced that DHS had granted extraordinary contractual relief to Eastern Shipbuilding Group (ESG) of Panama City, FL, the builder of the first four OPCs, under P.L. 85-804 as amended (50 U.S.C. 1431-1435), a law that authorizes certain federal agencies to provide certain types of extraordinary relief to contractors who are encountering difficulties in the performance of federal contracts or subcontracts relating to national defense. The Coast Guard is holding a full and open competition for a new contract to build OPCs 5 through 15. On January 29, 2021, the Coast
Guard released a Request for Proposals (RFP) for this Stage 2 contract, as it is called. Responses to the RFP are due by May 28, 2021. The Coast Guard plans to award the Stage 2 contract in the second quarter of FY2022. 

FRCs are considerably smaller and less expensive than OPCs; they are intended to replace the Coast Guard’s 49 aging Island-class patrol boats. FRCs have an estimated average procurement cost of about $65 million per boat. A total of 64 have been funded through FY2021, including four in FY2021. Six of the 64 are to be used by the Coast Guard in the Persian Gulf and are not counted against the 58-ship POR quantity for the program, which relates to domestic operations. Forty of the 64 have been commissioned into service, and three others have been accepted by the Coast Guard and are awaiting commissioning. The Coast Guard’s proposed FY2021 budget requested $20 million in procurement funding for the FRC program; this request did not include funding for any additional FRCs.

The 41st fast response cutter (FRC), Charles Moulthrope, was delivered to the Coast Guard in Key West, Florida, Oct. 22, 2020. It is the first of six planned FRCs to be stationed in Manama, Bahrain. (U.S. Coast Guard photo)

When Most of Your Property is Under Water

Estimated exclusive economic zones (EEZs) of Pacific Island countries and territories (PICTs). The EEZs of countries that are the Parties to the Nauru Agreement are shown in darker blue. Note that not all EEZs of PICTs have been officially delineated under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. Source: Patrick Lehodey

The IndoPacific Defense Forum discusses efforts of Pacific Island nations to stake their claim to their EEZ as it exists now, rather than wait until rising waters eliminate some of the islands the EEZ is currently based upon.

The US, and consequently the Coast Guard, has obligations to several of these States under Compacts of Free Association. We also are motivated by concern that these nations not become dependent on China.

Bound for the Med and PATFORSWA

Vice Adm. Steven Poulin, commander, U.S. Coast Guard Atlantic Area, and Command Master Chief Devin Spencer, visit the crew of the Sentinel-class fast response cutter USCGC Charles Moulthrope (WPC 1141) in Puerto Rico prior to beginning their transit across the North Atlantic to Europe, March 31, 2021. The Moulthrope and USCGC Robert Goldman (WPC 1142) crews will continue to their new homeport of Manama, Bahrain, with brief stops for logistics and relationship building. Planning for the escort and deployment began last year to ensure smooth delivery of the fast response cutters, replacing the Island-class ships currently in operation under the U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet command. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Lt. Dana Wanjon/Released)

Below is an Atlantic Area news release. In the photo above, you can see that both cutters are equipped with upgrades.

united states coast guard 
News Release U.S. Coast Guard Atlantic Area
Contact: Coast Guard Atlantic Area Public Affairs
Office: (757) 398-6521
After Hours: (757) 641-0763
Atlantic Area online newsroom
U.S. Coast Guard ships depart Puerto Rico on mission to strengthen Trans-Atlantic ties  

ATLANTIC OCEAN — The Legend-class national security cutter USCGC Hamilton (WMSL 753) with the Sentinel-class fast response cutters USCGC Charles Moulthrope (WPC 1141) and USCGC Robert Goldman (WPC 1142) departed Puerto Rico to transit the North Atlantic to Europe, Thursday, April 1, 2021.

“U.S. Coast Guard cutters have a long history of protecting America’s interests at home and abroad. This historic deployment demonstrates how we can strengthen our national security by extending the Coast Guard’s global reach and firming our commitments to Allies and partners in the region,” Capt. Timothy Cronin, commanding officer, USCGC Hamilton.

Hamilton is escorting the fast response cutters across the Atlantic before conducting a patrol in the U.S. Navy’s Sixth Fleet area of responsibility to maintain maritime security alongside NATO Allies and partners. The Moulthrope and Goldman crews will continue to their new homeport of Manama, Bahrain, with brief stops for logistics and relationship building. Planning for the escort and deployment began last year to ensure smooth delivery of the fast response cutters, replacing the Island-class ships currently in operation under the U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet command.

“Our primary goal for the fast response cutters is to complete the 9,000-mile voyage to homeport safely and efficiently.  In addition, we will capitalize on opportunities to strengthen international partnerships promoting security and prosperity throughout some of the world’s busiest maritime trade routes,” Lt. Cmdr. Steven Hulse, commanding officer, USCGC Charles Moulthrope.

“We expect to showcase the capabilities of the fast response cutter, and the U.S. Coast Guard to advance the shared maritime strategy for security with the U.S. Navy and naval partners in the region, while concurrently engaging with them on the more traditional U.S. Coast Guard missions of search and rescue, maritime law enforcement, and illegal fisheries enforcement,” Lt. Cmdr. Samuel Blase, commanding officer, USCGC Robert Goldman.
  
The U.S. Navy and U.S. Coast Guard operate forward, from the littoral to the open ocean, ensuring stability and open sea lanes across all maritime domains. U.S. Coast Guard operations in U.S. Sixth Fleet demonstrate our commitment, flexibility, and capability to operate and address security concerns throughout Europe and Africa.

“The U.S. Coast Guard is a member of the Joint Force, a key and always-ready instrument to further national security objectives globally,” said Vice Adm. Steven Poulin, commander, U.S. Coast Guard Atlantic Area. “It’s been almost two decades since we sent the Island-class patrol boats to Bahrain. As we seek to modernize our asset support to the U.S. Navy in the Arabian Gulf, this is an excellent opportunity to advance partnerships and learn from our allies in the region.”
 
Hamilton is the fourth ship in its class. The Legend-class is the largest current cutter class of the U.S. Coast Guard. These vessels support various missions, including environmental protection, search and rescue, fisheries, port security, counterterrorism, law enforcement, drug interdiction, defense operations, and other military operations.

Moulthrope and Goldman are the first two of six Sentinel-class ships headed to U.S. Patrol Forces Southwest Asia. Established in 2002 to support Operation Iraqi Freedom, PATFORSWA played a critical role in maritime security and maritime infrastructure protection operations. It is the U.S. Coast Guard’s largest unit outside of the United States.

PATFORSWA is currently providing U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet and U.S. Central Command with combat-ready assets, utilizing our unique access to foreign territorial seas and ports, formulating strong and independent relationships with patterns throughout the Arabian Gulf, and leveraging the full-spectrum, flexible vessel boarding capabilities and maritime country engagements on the shore.

U.S. Sixth Fleet, headquartered in Naples, Italy, conducts the full spectrum of joint and naval operations, often in concert with allied and interagency partners, to advance U.S. national interests and security and stability in Europe and Africa.  

Based in Portsmouth, Virginia, U.S. Coast Guard Atlantic Area oversees all Coast Guard operations east of the Rocky Mountains to the Arabian Gulf. Also, they allocate ships to deploy to the Caribbean and Eastern Pacific to combat transnational organized crime and illicit maritime activity.
The Legend-class national security cutter USCGC Hamilton (WMSL 753) with the Sentinel-class fast response cutters USCGC Charles Moulthrope (WPC 1141) and USCGC Robert Goldman (WPC 1142) departed Puerto Rico to transit the North Atlantic to Europe, April 1, 2021. Hamilton is escorting the fast response cutters across the Atlantic before conducting a patrol in the U.S. Navy’s Sixth Fleet area of responsibility to maintain maritime security alongside NATO Allies and partners. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Sydney Phoenix/Released)