“Unmanned and on Guard: A New Approach to Coast Guard Operations” –USNI Blog

The US Naval Institute Blog has a post by LCdr John H Walters, USCG, who is the MQ-9A platform manager within the CG Office of Unmanned Aircraft Systems.

It pleads the case for unmanned systems (and satellite systems). The author is obviously a true believer (as am I to an extent).

The thing that I find encouraging is that there is a Coast Guard Office of Unmanned Aircraft Systems. What I find discouraging is that the Coast Guard has yet to procure its own shore based UAS and is still riding the coat tails of the Customs and Border Protection program that is still operating old versions of the MQ-9 that are not optimized for the Marine environment and do not have the “see and avoid” capability that would allow them to operate in airspace where mid-air collision is a possibility. There may be operational reasons to continue a relationship with the CBP unit, but as a learning experience, it has served its purpose. DBP has been operating their MQ-9s for 16 years. It is time for the Coast Guard to field its own land based unmanned air systems.

 

Task Force 59 Unmanned Surface Vessels Operate With PATFORSWA Cutter

US Navy TF59 Integrates MANTAS USV with Patrol Vessels

Two MANTAS T-12 unmanned surface vessels (USV), front, operate alongside U.S. Coast Guard patrol boat USCGC Maui (WPB 1304) during exercise New Horizon in the Arabian Gulf, Oct. 26. Exercise New Horizon was U.S. Naval Forces Central Command Task Force 59’s first at-sea evolution since its establishment Sept. 9. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Dawson Roth)

Naval News reports an exercise conducted by Task Force 59, Fifth Fleet’s Unmanned systems development group. As I thought they might, they have been working with Coast Guard Patrol Force South West Asia (PATFORSWA) as well as Navy Cyclone class and allied navies.

“New Coast Guard Team to Flesh Out Unmanned Systems Requirements” –National Defense

 

MQ-9B Seaguardian during the maritime capabilities demonstration flight over Southern California waters in September 2020. GA-ASI picture.

National Defense reports that during a round table following the Commandant’s State of the Coast Guard address, he stated that the Coast Guard would be standing up an unmanned systems requirements office in headquarters. Unmanned surface and sub-surface systems will be considered in addition to air systems.

“We learned that the future of our unmanned systems strategy will most likely rely on more diverse systems and effective integration of machine learning to unlock actionable data for Coast Guard operators,” he said. “These are valuable lessons as we stand up an unmanned systems element within our Coast Guard requirements shop to consider how unmanned technology can augment our future fleet…It’s really a UxS office,” he said of the new group that will be set up to look at requirements.

Thanks to Lee for bringing this to my attention. 

“Coast Guard RDC evaluates Beyond Visual Line of Sight technology for UAS” –CG-9

V-Bat from Martin UAV

The Acquisitions Directorate has a post, duplicated below, reporting on evaluation of a “Detect and Avoid” (DAA) system mounted on a small unmanned air system (sUAS). To me, the most significant part of the report is at the end,

“What’s on the horizon? Future evaluations will be focused on two capabilities:

  • “Investigating DAA technologies incorporated onboard a long endurance UAS capable of operating for 6.5 hours. This effort will support future UAS operations with Coast Guard vessels not equipped with a flight deck. (emphasis applied–Chuck)
  • “Evaluating vertical takeoff and landing UAS equipped with DAA technologies for operating onboard cutters with a flight deck.”

Operating UAS from non-flight deck equipped cutters is good news. (WPCs, WPBs, and maybe buoy tenders? Apparently they are operating from a 45 foot Response Boat-Medium.) The specificity of the “6.5 hours” operating capability must mean they are looking at a particular system.

Possibly related:


Aviation Branch personnel Evan Gross and Taylor Kall from the Coast Guard Research and Development Center prepare an AeroVironment Puma unmanned aircraft system equipped with the Passive Acoustic Non Cooperative Aircraft Collision Avoidance System for launch at Air Station Cape Cod, Massachusetts. U.S. Coast Guard photo.


The Coast Guard Research and Development Center (RDC) is evaluating Detect and Avoid (DAA) technologies to enable unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) to operate Beyond Visual Line of Sight (BVLOS) without relying on Coast Guard cutter systems for clearing airspace.

Current Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) rules prohibit UAS in national airspace under visual flight rules because UAS cannot detect and avoid other aircraft. DAA technologies may provide one solution to meet national airspace requirements, allowing the Coast Guard to expand its use of UAS to maintain better awareness of activities in the maritime domain.

“The ultimate goal of this project is to provide a pathway for UAS to operate BVLOS for both flight deck-equipped cutters and smaller vessels without a flight deck, providing a tool to increase mission effectiveness for Coast Guard surface operations,” said Steve Dunn, a researcher with the RDC Aviation Branch who is leading this effort.

In addition to supporting operation of UAS to cover greater distances at sea and patrol operational areas from land-based stations, DAA/BVLOS technology could increase Coast Guard efficiency by eliminating the need for a dedicated air direction controller to keep UAS clear of other aircraft.

Acoustic signature system

The RDC evaluated a DAA acoustic signature system called Passive Acoustic Non Cooperative Aircraft Collision Avoidance System (PANCAS) in August 2020 at Air Station Cape Cod, Massachusetts. The objective was to capture audible range data on how far the UAS could detect other aircraft to support future commands for UAS operators to avoid other airborne targets.

The PANCAS technology uses sound rather than radar and computer vision to detect things in its airspace. It has the potential to be used by UAS operators located on cutters or at land-based units, covering the full range of UAS operations.

PANCAS looks for an acoustic signature to identify aircraft in its vicinity and alert the UAS operator, who can then take evasive action to avoid the other aircraft. This equipment is also an example of a passive technology, meaning it is constantly listening for an acoustic signature and has 360 degree listening range. This technology may prove to be an alternative to active transmitters, which may not have 360 field of view and possibly require a lot of power from the UAS’s limited power supply.

The PANCAS evaluation was very successful; however, the technology is not at the stage where it can be submitted to the FAA for approvals. Additional engineering will be done to integrate waterproof microphones into the UAS wing, enabling the system to land in the water.

An AeroVironment prototype long-range directional antenna (left) was evaluated for its ability to extend the range of UAS operations using ground control stations at Air Station Cape Cod and onboard a Station Cape Cod Canal response boat (right). U.S. Coast Guard photo.

Long-range directional antenna

The RDC utilized a Cooperative Research and Development Agreement in November 2020 to evaluate a long-range directional antenna developed to extend the operational range of an AeroVironment Puma UAS. With the antenna, the RDC was able to successfully operate the Puma out to a range of 31 nautical miles. For this evaluation, the RDC team established two ground control stations — one land-based unit at Air Station Cape Cod and one onboard a response boat from Coast Guard Station Cape Cod Canal.

The evaluation was successful and proved the antenna’s viability for ground-based operations; data gathered will help support future BVLOS operations using DAA technologies. The demonstration also validated the need for a 360-degree directional antenna for BVLOS operations by the Coast Guard boating community. The RDC team is investigating further partnerships involving directional antennas to provide that capability.

The ability to operate smaller UAS such as a Puma farther away from Coast Guard vessels may unlock the full potential of UAS, providing a force multiplier for non-flight deck equipped cutters. Extending the range and flight time of smaller UAS are key factors for operating BVLOS.

What’s on the horizon?

Future evaluations will be focused on two capabilities:

  • Investigating DAA technologies incorporated onboard a long endurance UAS capable of operating for 6.5 hours. This effort will support future UAS operations with Coast Guard vessels not equipped with a flight deck.
  • Evaluating vertical takeoff and landing UAS equipped with DAA technologies for operating onboard cutters with a flight deck.

The goal of both efforts is to obtain an FAA Certificate of Authorization to use DAA technologies for operating BVLOS. The RDC plans to continue evaluations through early 2023; however, schedules may be impacted by COVID-related travel restrictions.

Puma UAS equipped with PANCAS flying with an Air Station Cape Cod HC-144. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

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

“Coast Guard completes 30 day test of unmanned surface vehicles off Hawaii” –D14

Three of six saildrones getting ready for deployment from Dutch Harbor, AK, on the 2019 Arctic mission. Photo Credit: Saildrone, Inc.

Below is a 14th District news release discussing a recent month long experiment with using unmanned surface systems for maritime domain awareness (MDA), particularly in regard to Illegal, Unregulated, Unreported (IUU) fishing. Sounds like they had some success.

“These vessels proved to be very effective across a variety of mission areas. The results of this study will help shape how the Coast Guard, and our partners, incorporate USVs into our future operations.”

united states coast guard

News Release

U.S. Coast Guard 14th District Hawaii and the Pacific
Contact: 14th District Public Affairs
Office: (808) 535-3230
After Hours: HawaiiPacific@uscg.mil
14th District online newsroom

Coast Guard completes 30 day test of unmanned surface vehicles off Hawaii

USV USV Test USV

Editors’ Note: Click on images to download a high-resolution version.

HONOLULU — The Coast Guard completed a 30 day demonstration and evaluation of unmanned surface vehicles (USVs) off Oahu, early November.

The focus of the test was to explore how current and emerging technologies might be used to enhance maritime domain awareness in remote regions. The test also showed ways USVs with assorted sensor capabilities might support the Coast Guard’s many missions around the globe ranging from search and rescue, to law enforcement.

“It’s clear that autonomous technology is a growing industry, and has great potential to enhance Coast Guard operations,” said Cmdr. Blair Sweigart, the demonstration’s director from the Coast Guard Research and Development Center. “Combined with artificial intelligence algorithms, unmanned systems could be a game changer.”

During the test the Coast Guard examined USVs from Saildrone and Spatial Integrated Systems to understand their capabilities and effectiveness. The USVs participated in a variety of operational simulations to detect and alert the Coast Guard to both legitimate and nefarious behavior.

As outlined in the Coast Guard’s Strategic Plan 2018-2022, one of the service’s main goals is to “evaluate emerging technologies, such as unmanned platforms, artificial intelligence, machine learning, network protocols, information storage, and human-machine collaboration for possible use in mission execution.”

These tests represent a commitment to those goals, allowing the Coast Guard to identify how USVs could be used to support search and rescue operations, improve Marine Environmental response, enhance Port Security, aid in the fight against illegal maritime smuggling, and identify vessels engaged in illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing.

“The demonstration helped us understand what these technologies currently are, and are not, capable of,” said Sweigart. “These vessels proved to be very effective across a variety of mission areas. The results of this study will help shape how the Coast Guard, and our partners, incorporate USVs into our future operations.”

With their long endurance, USVs can provide persistent domain awareness in remote regions of the U.S. Exclusive Economic Zone. By conducting the demonstrations off Hawaii, the teams gained a firsthand understanding of how these assets could help protect the islands, and the critical resources and habitats throughout Oceania.

Many of the Coast Guard’s missions require close coordination with federal, state, local, and international partners and during the tests the Coast Guard worked closely with NOAA, DHS partners, the Navy, and agencies from several partner nations who face similar issues to protect the global maritime and fishing industries.

“GPS unreliability” –Maritime Reporter & Engineering News – November 2020

A short explanation of why we need to get on with providing a terrestrial alternative to the GPS system by Dennis L. Bryant, Capt. USCG (retired).

Reportedly GPS can be spoofed for as little as $300.

With the Coast Guard’s increasing use of drones that use GPS navigation, its not unlikely drug smugglers will start spoofing GPS. We should be ready to detect such efforts and perhaps home in on them. Maybe need an inertial navigation alternative on our UAVs? (Not really sure what we are using right now.)

“MQ-9B SeaGuardian Maritime UAV: Which Missions ? Which Customers ?” –Naval News

MQ-9B Seaguardian during the maritime capabilities demonstration flight over Southern California waters in September 2020. GA-ASI picture.

NavalNews reports on the Maritime version of the Predator UAV, the MQ-9B Seaguardian, including its sensors and market success.

In addition to different sensors, this model is different from the MQ-9s that the Coast Guard has flown with Customs and Border Protection (CBP) in that they are intended to operate in civilian airspace. CBP has been operating MQ-9 UAVs for 15 years.

Congress seems not only willing to support Coast Guard operation of land based medium altitude long endurance (MALE) UAVs like the Seaguardian. They are actually pushing the Coast Guard. They can not seem to understand why we have not done it already.

In addition to the possibilities of use in the drug transit zones, these long range, long endurance aircraft could be especially useful in detecting IUU activity in the Western Pacific where there normally are no Coast Guard air assets.

A Successful Test of TALONS and an Air Droppable Rescue Boat

The Towed Airborne Lift of Naval Systems (TALONS) is a parafoil-based system shown kiting from the Greenough Advanced Rescue Craft. TALONS relays data between the MCM USV and the LCS via the government-developed multi-vehicle communication relays system. (Credit: US Navy/Released)

There are two items of interest here.

Naval News brings us more news about TALONS and incidentally, info on an air droppable rescue boat. We have been following DARPA’s development of TALONS (Towed Airborne Lift of Naval Systems) for about four years.

Putting sensors at 1000 feet gives a horizon distance of 38.7 miles compared with 8.7 miles for a more typical height of 50 feet. This latest test show how truly small the footprint of this system can be. The boat is only 15’8” (4.8M) in length.

I had never heard of the Greenough Advanced Rescue Craft (GARC). Apparently it is a standard Air Force system. The Coast Guard used to have a capability to drop a lifeboat from a fixed wing aircraft. The Air Force apparently still does and it looks like it could be remote controlled to go to the rescue of those in distress. Check out the description in at the link below.

“The Unmanned GARC is 15’8” (4.8M) in length and a full load displacement of 3,600lbs. It has a top speed in excess of 35 knots, a range of 400+ nautical miles at 30 knots (700+ nm range at 6 knots). It can operate up to sea state 4.”

A U.S. Coast Guard Boeing PB-1G Fortress carrying a lifeboat in 1948. The USCG used the PB-1G from 1945 to 1959. US Coast Guard photo 5261

When we used to do this (even before my time), I am pretty sure the survivors had to make their way to the boat, which could be problematic. Looks like this one could be driven to the survivors and probably has a radio link.

“UK Maritime and Coast Guard Agency wants drones for its SAR missions” –Naval News

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.

Sea Machines, Hike Metal to Collaborate on SAR Autonomy” –MarineLink

Marine Link reports an attempt to build an unmanned rescue vessel.

Boston-based Sea Machines Robotics announced today a new partnership with Hike Metal, a world-class manufacturer of workboats based in Ontario, Canada, to integrate Sea Machines’ SM300 autonomous vessel control system aboard commercial vessels tasked with search-and-rescue (SAR) missions.

Unmanned is “all the rage,” but once you get on scene, you never know what you will find. The victim you are attempting to help may need medical assistance, they may not be able to move to shelter provided by the boat.

Automated systems could operate like a smart cruise control on your car, navigating to a designated position and even follow the rules of the road. Automated systems can reduce manning requirements, but when the SAR vessel gets on scene, you need the versatility of a human being to respond to the unexpected.

(Writing this feels some how wrong. Am I being reactionary? Isn’t this obvious to everyone? Still felt like I had to say something. Good systems could come out of this, but full autonomy is just too much to expect.)