“First Three SMDM Fixed-Wing UAS Delivered To The French Navy” –Naval News

“The Aliaca maritime UAS is a high endurance versatile system allowing up to 3 hours missions over a 50 km (27 Nm) range, perfectly adapted to maritime missions with high gyro stabilized EO/IR payload performances and qualified to operate in severe environmental conditions. Airbus Defence and Space/ Survey COPTER image.”

Naval News reports first deliveries under the French Navy’s “Système de Mini Drones aériens embarqués pour la Marine” (On-board Mini Aerial Drone System for the Navy), or SMDM program intended to provide small, fixed wing, unmanned aircraft to support their Offshore Patrol Vessels. 

The DGA ordered 11 SMDMs at the end of 2020 to the SME Survey Copter, a subsidiary of Airbus Group, for an amount of 19.7 million euros, including procurement of systems and support services. Deliveries will be staggered until 2023…An SMDM is composed of two Aliaca UAVs from Survey Copter. The Aliaca is set to be deployed aboard the future offshore patrol vessels of the French Navy (both the POM and future Patrouilleur Oceanique) and surveillance frigates. Integration on the Mistral-class LHD is also considered.

These electric powered UAVs will fill essentially the same role as the Scan Eagles being used on the Bertholf class National Security Cutters (NSC). They are very nearly the same size. At first glance, at least, Scan Eagle appears more capable in every way.

Electric powered UAS are clean, quiet, and usually extremely reliable. The vessels that will be operating these UAS are all smaller than the 4,600 ton NSCs, the 1,300 ton POMs very much smaller.

It does sound like these will be Navy owned and operated, rather than operated by contractors, like the Coast Guard’s Scan Eagles.

Photos below were found in this French language report: “Marine nationale : une première capacité opérationnelle du SMDM espérée cet été”

Campagne d’essais en 2014 sur un PHM (© : MARINE NATIONALE)
© Mer et Marine https://www.meretmarine.com/fr/marine-nationale-une-premiere-capacite-operationnelle-du-smdm-esperee-cet-ete

“Coast Guard releases request for information for medium-range unmanned aircraft systems” –CG-9

Insitu Scan Eagle in Coast Guard colors. Notably the RFI requires, “…the UA shall incorporate low-visibility, counter-shaded paint scheme consisting of FED-STD-595C FS 36320 (or similar) matte gray upper surfaces and FED-STD-595C FS 36375 (or similar) matte gray lower surfaces,” much like an Air Force F-16.

Below is an Acquisitions Directorate (CG-9) statement regarding a Request for Information,

The Coast Guard released a request for information (RFI) Aug. 5 to determine the potential sources and the technical capability of industry to provide Group II and Group III unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), capable of deploying from Coast Guard cutters.

The RFI can be found here.

So what are “Group II and Group III unmanned aircraft systems (UAS)?” Wikipedia identifies the groups and provides examples.

  • Group II: Maximum weight 21 to 55 pounds (25 kg); Nominal Operating Altitude <3500 feet above ground level (AGL) (1,067 meters); speed less than 250 knots
  • Group III: Maximum weight <1320 pounds (600 kg); Nominal Operating Altitude < flight level 180 (about 18,000 feet or 5,488 meters); speed less than 250 knots

Notably the Navy’s Fire Scout is a Group IV UAS, so will not be considered. These groups do include both Insitu’s Scan Eagle, currently being used on National Security Cutters and their larger RQ-21 Blackjack. Also included are the V-Bat which has been tested on a Coast Guard WMEC and a number other vertical take-off and landing capable UAS.

The RFI appendix 1, entitled “Draft System Performance Specifications (SPS)” is 11 pages long and provides much more detail. I will mention only some highlights and these are only the minimums, there are also higher objective criteria:

  • Endurance: 12 hours
  • Dash speed: 70 knots
  • Cruise speed: 50 knots
  • Service ceiling: 3,000 feet
  • Range: 40 nmi in clear weather, 35 in light rain
  • The UA shall provide fully automated flight operations, including launch and recovery.
  • The UA shall have space, weight, and power to concurrently operate: Electro-Optical (EO) sensor, Infra-Red (IR) sensor, AIS, VHF/UHF communications relay, aeronautical transponder, and non-visible IR marker. [KPP]
  • At an operating altitude of 3,000 feet when the UAS is directly overhead of the target of interest (no slant range), the UA shall be acoustically non–detectable per MIL STD-1474 (series), Level 1 requirements (quiet rural area with the closest heavily used highway and community noises at least 2.5 miles away).

Notably there is no mention of radar or vidar, although Vidar is an EO sensor currently used by Scan Eagle UAS operating from National Security Cutters. There is also this,

The UA shall be capable of accepting modular payloads. Modular payloads are defined as payloads that can be replaced or interchanged with the previously-installed EO or IR payload(s) within one to two hours (elapsed time). Modular payloads may be government provided.

I did find this interesting, “The UA shall launch and recover while a static MH-65 is spotted with blades unfolded on the flight deck.”

The drawings contained in Appendix 2 indicate that these Unmanned Aircraft are intended for Bertholf class “National Security” cutters. Appendix 1 also sounded like these would be contractor operated, as are the Scan Eagles currently being deployed on National Security Cutters.

Since these specs are not too different from the Scan Eagles already being used on National Security Cutters, the Coast Guard may be just checking the competition to see what else is out there. On the other hand, perhaps some of the requirements may not be being met by the Scan Eagle UAS we are currently using. That the RFI provided only 17 days from issue to deadline for response, suggests the Coast Guard had already been been in communications with “the usual suspects.”


Coast Guard releases request for information for medium-range unmanned aircraft systems

The Coast Guard released a request for information (RFI) Aug. 5 to determine the potential sources and the technical capability of industry to provide Group II and Group III unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), capable of deploying from Coast Guard cutters.

The Coast Guard is interested in UAS that include fully automatic flight operations, have a minimum endurance of 12 hours and can be launched and recovered from a cutter flight deck. For Coast Guard mission success, UAS need to be capable of carrying a payload including electro-optical and infrared sensors and communications relay. Technological readiness level and degree of commonality and interoperability with existing Department of Homeland Security or Department of Defense programs are also of interest.

The full RFI is available here. Responses are due by 1 p.m. EDT Aug. 22.

For more information: Unmanned Aircraft Systems Program page

Contracts For “Continued Studies of a Large Unmanned Surface Vessel”

MetalCraft Marine 7 meter “The Watcher” Autonomous Surface Vessel (ASV)

I have to believe that the Navy’s efforts in Unmanned Surface Vessels will ultimately have a significant implact on the way the Coast Guard does its business, so a recent series of contract awards reported in “The US Department of Defense Daily Digest Bulletin, Contracts for July 29, 2022” is of interest. 


Marinette Marine Corp., Marinette, Wisconsin, is awarded a $10,212,620 firm-fixed-price modification to previously awarded contract N00024-20-C-6317 for continued studies of a large unmanned surface vessel. Work will be performed in Marinette, Wisconsin, and is expected to be completed by September 2024. Fiscal 2022 research, development, test and evaluation (Navy) funds in the amount of $149,841 will be obligated at time of award and will not expire at the end of the current fiscal year. The Naval Sea Systems Command, Washington, D.C., is the contracting activity.

Bollinger Shipyards Lockport LLC, Lockport, Louisiana, is awarded a $9,428,770 firm-fixed-price modification to previously awarded contract N00024-20-C-6316 for continued studies of a large unmanned surface vessel. This contract modification includes options which, if exercised, would bring the cumulative value of this contract modification to $13,958,770. Work will be performed in Lockport, Louisiana, and is expected to be completed by September 2024. If all options are exercised, work will continue through September 2024. Fiscal 2022 research, development, test and evaluation (Navy) funds in the amount of $149,933 will be obligated at time of award and will not expire at the end of the current fiscal year. The Naval Sea Systems Command, Washington, D.C., is the contracting activity.

Austal USA LLC, Mobile, Alabama, is awarded a $9,115,310 firm-fixed-price modification to previously awarded contract N00024-20-C-6315 for continued studies of a large unmanned surface vessel. This contract modification includes options which, if exercised, would bring the cumulative value of this contract modification to $13,285,309. Work will be performed in Mobile, Alabama, and is expected to be completed by September 2024. If all options are exercised, work will continue through September, 2024. Fiscal 2022 research, development, test and evaluation (Navy) funds in the amount of $149,878 will be obligated at time of award and will not expire at the end of the current fiscal year. The Naval Sea Systems Command, Washington, D.C., is the contracting activity.

Gibbs & Cox Inc., Arlington, Virginia, is awarded an $8,981,231 firm-fixed-price modification to previously awarded contract N00024-20-C-6318 for continued studies of a large unmanned surface vessel. This contract modification includes options which, if exercised, would bring the cumulative value of this contract modification to $15,071,231. Work will be performed in Arlington, Virginia, and is expected to be completed by September 2024. If all options are exercised, work will continue through September 2024. Fiscal 2022 research, development, test and evaluation (Navy) funds in the amount of $149,899 will be obligated at time of award and will not expire at the end of the current fiscal year. The Naval Sea Systems Command, Washington, D.C., is the contracting activity.

Three PATFORSWA Island Class Cutters Decommissioned

This from Chris Cavas on Twitter. More photos there.

Three hard-working 110-foot US #Coast Guard cutters were decommissioned 22 March in a ceremony at Manama, #Bahrain. Cutters MAUI WPB1304, MONOMOY WPB1326 & WRANGELL WPB1332 served in the Persian Gulf since 2004, will now be available for foreign transfer.

USCGC Adak was previously decommissioned and sold to Indonesia. Likely these little ships will continue to provide useful service.

They are being replaced in Bahrain by larger and more capable Webber class Fast Response Cutters. It appears the newly arrived cutters are equipped to counter Unmanned Systems.

Thanks to Walter for bringing this to my attention. 

“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.)