Bangladesh OPVs and a New USV, Worth the Read

A couple of stories brought to my attention by readers,

Bangladesh Navy , BNS Bijoy, armed with 1 x H/PJ-26 76 mm main gun, 4 × C-704 AShM, and 2 × Oerlikon 20 mm auto cannons

First a look at how Bangladesh has been using a couple of second hand British built Castle class OPVs. (Bangladesh now has two former USCG WHECs, so its good to see they take care of their ships. Thanks to Sven for bringing this to my attention.)

USV sighted in San Diego

Second, a report of a new unmanned surface vessel operating in San Diego. Looks like a test mule rather than a final product. (Thanks to CaptnMike for sending me the link.)

“Sea Buoys: Solid Templates In Navy’s Hyped Race For Maritime Autonomy” –Forbes

Forbes brings us a reality check on the future of Unmanned Surface and Subsurface systems, including considerations that apply to the Coast Guard as well as the DOD.

At sea, robots certainly offer the potential for lots of new and exciting capabilities. But that will mean nothing, if, in the race to chase new capabilities, the Pentagon overlooks the harsh operational realities facing any brave robot sent out to cruise our big and increasingly contested oceans all alone.

This is probably less of a problem for the Coast Guard, because as a very conservative and tight fisted organization, it is less inclined to overreach, and tends to allow other services to go through the development process before jumping in. We really have a very small R&D budget.

There is a lot of information in the article about the successes and failures (that we don’t hear so much abour) of the Saildrone program. A program the author holds in high regard.

As the principle support organization for buoys, our own and NOAA’s, perhaps the Coast Guard has experience that the Navy might benefit from.

I do have one question. If the Navy has engines that can run a Large Unmanned Surface Vessel for months without anyone on watch and without maintenance, why haven’t they put them on manned vessels?

Perhaps a second question. I was surprised to see that vandalism was such a problem for our buoys. If we have warships with no one on board, what is to stop the many bored Chinese fisherman from vandalizing our unmanned warships?

“Saildrone Showcased Its USVs At Sea Air Space 2021 For The First Time” –Naval News

Saildrone is a company that provides Unmanned Surface Vessels, powered primarily by wind and solar. The Coast Guard has already been experimenting with some of the these to provide Maritime Domain Awareness.

Naval News reports on their presence at Sea Air Space 2021, including a new, much larger, 72 foot long class of saildrones.

Meanwhile the US Naval Institute News Service reports these “Uncrewed” surface vessels might be used for ASW, towing passive sensors.

“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. 

“SEA CONTROL 219 – USCG COMMANDANT ADMIRAL KARL SCHULTZ” –CIMSEC

Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Karl Schultz visits with Coast Guard crews stationed in New York City. U.S. Coast Guard photo illustration by Petty Officer 1st Class Jetta Disco.

(I meant to cover this earlier, but perhaps still worth a listen)

CIMSEC’s Podcast “SEA Control,” had an interview with the Commandant, Dec. 27, 2020. You can find it here.

At first I thought I had heard it all before, but toward the end, there were some surprises.

He talked about  Arctic, Antarctic, and IUU. He talked about the Arctic Strategic Outlook and the IUU Strategic Outlook.

Illegal, Unreported, Unregulated fishing got a lot of attention. He related that it was gaining visibility and had become a national security issue since overfishing has created food security issues for many countries. He pointed to Coast Guard Cooperation with Ecuador in monitoring a fishing fleet off the Galapagos Islands. Internationally he sees a coordination role for the USCG.

Relative to the Arctic he mentioned the possibility of basing icebreakers in the Atlantic and the need for better communications.

He talked about the Tri-Service Strategy and the Coast Guards roles in it, particularly in less than lethal competition.

More novel topics started about minute 38 beginning with Unmanned systems. He talked about the recent CG experiments with unmanned systems and went on to note that the CG will also regulated Unmanned commercial vessel systems.

About minute 41 he talked about the Coast Guard’s role in countering UAS in the Arabian Gulf. He added that we have a lead role in DHS in counter UAS. “We are in the thick of that”

GA-ASI Concludes Successful Series of MQ-9 Demonstrations in Greece

He said the service was looking at MQ-9 maritime “Guardian” (minute 45)

When ask about reintroducing an ASW capability he said that while the Coast Guard was looking at it, the service would have to be cautious about biting off too much. (My suggestion of how the CG could have an ASW mission with minimal impact on its peacetime structure.)

He talked about balancing local and distant missions and concluded that the CG could do both (47), and that the Coast Guard was becoming truly globally deployable (48).

He noted that the first two FRCs for PATFORSWA would transit to Bahrain in Spring, followed by two more in the Fall, and two more in 2022. (49)

He noted technology is making SAR more efficient. “Hopefully we will put ourselves out of the Search and Rescue business.” 50

He talked about the benefits of “white hull diplomacy.” (52)

Asked about our funding for new missions he said it was sometime necessary to demonstrate the value of the mission first, then seek funding. (55)

He also talked about raising the bar on maintenance.

“RDC concludes Low Cost Maritime Domain Awareness Pilot Study” –CG-9

The 29RDC autonomous vessel underway during the Coast Guard’s unmanned surface vehicle demonstration Oct. 7 through Nov. 5 off the coast of Oahu, Hawaii.

Below is a story from the CG-9 website. It provides more specifics on the results than did my earlier post.

  • “…proved their capability to detect vessels in excess of a mile and in certain situations in excess of 4 miles.” That sounds a little disappointing, I would have expected more range, at least against larger targets.
  • “…the 29RDC was operated by RDC watchstanders in New London, Connecticut, demonstrating the vessel’s ability to be controlled from 5,000 miles away utilizing cellular service.” That would tend to indicate they were operated relatively close to shore.

Sounds like they learned a lot. The potential is there. It seems the Coast Guard spends very little on R&D. We probably ought to do more.


The Coast Guard Research and Development Center (RDC) Nov. 5 concluded a month-long evaluation of unmanned surface vehicles (USVs) to determine their ability to provide persistent maritime domain awareness (MDA) in remote areas of the ocean.

The focus of the evaluation was to explore how current and emerging technologies might support the Coast Guard’s many missions around the globe. The project showed that USVs with assorted sensor capabilities may be useful to complement organic Coast Guard aviation and surface assets in performing key operations in these regions, ranging from combatting illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing to conducting search and rescue and a full range of law enforcement missions.

Initial results revealed that commercially available USVs are capable of delivering some level of daytime MDA and can conduct 30-day endurance missions. Two USVs used for this evaluation – the wind-propulsion Saildrone and Watcher, a diesel/solar-powered cutter boat from Spatial Integration Systems – proved their capability to detect vessels in excess of a mile and in certain situations in excess of 4 miles.

This demonstration also highlighted the importance of developing and incorporating artificial intelligence and machine learning into future USVs. The sensors used in this demonstration captured significant amounts of data. To speed processing and limit expensive bandwidth consumption, it is invaluable for the USV to conduct onboard processing to the greatest possible extent, limiting transmitted data to only that which is actionable to operators, according to Cmdr. Blair Sweigart, the RDC researcher who served as the demonstration director. He said this ability is critical to USVs’ success in long endurance and MDA missions.

“This evaluation showed that using autonomous USVs for future persistent MDA efforts will likely require a layered solution. USVs like Saildrone are capable of performing MDA missions for up to a year without maintenance, but their low transit speed does not allow them to pursue a target of opportunity to collect more information,” said RDC researcher Scot Tripp, who served as project manager. “In contrast, the Watcher is only capable of 30 days endurance but has the capability of traveling at speeds over 30 knots. It can also be instructed to pursue a target upon detection for better imagery. A system where these USVs worked together could prove to be a valuable tool for future MDA capabilities,” Tripp explained.


The Watcher (left) and Saildrone in the operation area. U.S. Coast Guard photos.


Two of the USVs used in this demonstration were contractor-owned/contractor-operated, which is only one of the potential procurement models available for these types of vessels. The type of vessel and how it is being used may best dictate which acquisition mode is most efficient, Tripp said. The Saildrone routinely operates on a service-provider model, for example, but government-owned/government-operated USVs might also be used effectively.

The RDC pursued the efficacy of a government-owned/government-operated USV with the 29RDC, a 29-foot autonomous vessel based on the Coast Guard response boat-small II. With the 29RDC, service operators from junior enlisted boat drivers to senior officers were able to interactively plan and execute their own missions in real time. Additionally, the 29RDC was operated by RDC watchstanders in New London, Connecticut, demonstrating the vessel’s ability to be controlled from 5,000 miles away utilizing cellular service. These demonstrations provided exceptional feedback regarding potential operations using USVs: in concert with cutters and other boats as a force multiplier; performance of reconnaissance missions; search and rescue augmentation through autonomously executed search patterns; and screening recreational and commercial vessel traffic.

This demonstration also reaffirmed a whole-of-government interest in enhancing MDA. Participants included U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, Navy Research Laboratory, Office of Naval Research, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Scientific Advisors for the U.S. Navy, The President’s Intelligence Advisory Board and Congressional staffers.

The Coast Guard is also interested in USV testing to help better inform policy decisions as these vehicles become more numerous in the marine environment.

This demonstration was part of the Coast Guard’s pilot study of low-cost commercially available technologies that can enhance maritime domain awareness in Pacific regions, with the primary focus of monitoring (IUU) fishing.  A quick look report summarizing preliminary results from the demonstration can be found here. A full report is scheduled for completion mid-2021.

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.

“Metal Shark and Sea Machines to Supply New U.S. Coast Guard Autonomous Test Vessel” –DefenseMediaNetwork

“The welded-aluminum 29 Defiant craft is the latest product of Metal Shark’s “Sharktech Autonomous Vessels” division to be equipped with Sea Machines SM300 autonomous-command and remote-helm technology. The new vessel offers a full range of advanced capabilities including transit autonomy, collaborative autonomy, active ride control and collision avoidance, and remote control vessel monitoring.”

DefenseMediaNetwork posted a story about the acquisition of an optionally manned surface vessel for the Coast Guard’s Research and Development Center.

During exercises scheduled for October off the coast of Hawaii, the RDC team will test and evaluate the Sharktech vessel’s autonomous capabilities for their potential in supporting USCG surveillance, interdiction, patrol, and other missions.

Seapower’s July/August Coast Guard Issue.

USCGC Stratton (WMSL-752), left, and the U.S. Navy Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS McCampbell (DDG-85) maneuver in formation during Talisman Sabre 2019 on July 11, 2019. US Navy Photo

The July/August issue of the Navy League’s magazine Seapower included a lot of Coast Guard content. I will not try to cover everything included, much of which has already been covered here, but I will mention a few things that stood out for me.

The Commandant’s Interview:

There was an interview with the Commandant, Admiral Schultz, that I found most interesting. There was a fair amount of information that was new to me.

Icebreakers:

Perhaps most significant was a comment regarding the Medium icebreaker.

“We also are looking to build probably a medium breaker, potentially what we’re going to call the Arctic security cutter — a little less capability in terms of icebreaking, but that capability would get us back to being an Atlantic and Pacific icebreaker Coast Guard.(emphasis applied–Chuck)

It may be that, if this ship is intended to transit the St Lawrence Seaway and work part time in the Great Lakes, like Canada’s proposed six “Program Icebreakers,” it would preclude the option of simply building six Polar Security Cutters rather than the three heavy and three medium icebreakers called for in the High Latitude Study. Alternately we might have four heavy Polar Security Cutters (PSC) in the Pacific and two Arctic Security Cutters (ASC) in the Atlantic.

The interview goes on to state, referring to its planned five year long progressive service life extension program, “…we could keep the 44-year-old Polar Star around here probably through the end of the decade if things go well.” (emphasis applied–Chuck)

The Western Pacific:

The Commandant noted that the Coast Guard had advisers in the Philippines, Vietnam, Fiji, and that an additional adviser would go to Malaysia and an attache to Australia to work with Australia and New Zealand. That there would also be an advisor assigned to Guam to work with the Commonwealth of Micronesia and the Federated States of Micronesia.

The Coast Guard is becoming more involved in countering Illegal, Unregulated, and Unreported (IUU) fishing, and will be providing leadership in international forums.

In reference to the forthcoming Tri-Service Maritime Strategy the Commandant said we could expect, “…to see the Coast Guard bring some unique capabilities to that conversation, particularly in the Indo-Pacific region.” 

Unmanned Systems:

Regarding land based systems the Commandant noted, “..we’ve completed prototype deployment of ScanEagle in Puerto Rico and Texas.” and “We teamed with U.S. Southern Command and CBP and employed one of those (MQ-9–Chuck) in an operation out of Panama that proved tremendously successful.”

He also mentions the possibility of using UAS of all sizes and mentioned the possibility of unmanned surface systems as well.

Cyber:

Sighting the FY2021 budget, Admiral Schultz said, “That is one of the biggest growth areas for humans in the Coast Guard here in the past budget cycle or two. There is somewhere north of 150 additional cyber warriors in the budget before the Congress right now.” 

“Insitu’s ScanEagle Performs ISR for Coast Guard”

There is a short one page report on the use of ScanEagle. It notes that ScanEagle is currently installed on six National Security Cutters and will be installed on all NSCs.

“A standard pack-out for a deployment of three ScanEagle UASs. The sensor systems include an electro-optical/infrared camera, a laser pointer, a communications relay, an automatic identification system (AIS), and visual detection and ranging (VIDAR)–a surface search capability.”

Interesting that it includes a laser pointer on the Coast Guard aircraft because that is usually used as a designator for laser homing weapons.

“The Era of the New Cutters”

This was a three page story, most of which is familiar to regular readers of this blog, but there was one nugget I had not seen before. “…the Coast Guard still will need to pursue a service-life extension program on six of the ships to ensure sustained fleet capability until the OPC program is finished.”

This almost certainly refers to the service life extension program (SLEP) for 270 foot WMECs. This is, I believe, the first time I have seen a number of ships mentioned, so not the whole class of 13. Notably it is only six so don’t expect a SLEP for 210s. They will soldier on in their current configuration until their long delayed retirement.

“GeoSpectrum Launches Low Frequency Active VDS Deployable by USVs”

Geospectrum’s new, compact version of the Towed Reelable Active Passive Sonar (TRAPS) suitable for Unmanned Surface Vessels (USVs)

NavyNews reports that Canadian Company GeoSpectrum has developed a version of their “Towed Reelable Active Passive Sonar” (TRAPS) that is scaled to fit vessels as small as 12 meter Unmanned Surface Vessels (USV).

We talked earlier about an earlier version of this system. If it fits on a 12 meter (39’4″) USV, then it should certainly be able to fit on anything WPB or larger. If we should ever have to go to war, this might be a capability we would want to protect our harbor approaches from submarines. We would probably also want to add an ASW torpedo launching capability.

It might be worth doing some experimentation to see how it works, and if desirable, draw up plans for adding this or a similar system for mobilization. First of course we should take a look at the results of Canada’s tests.

Might also be desirable to have something like this for the Webber class cutters going to PATFORSWA, since the Iranians have a large number of small conventionally powered submarines.

Maybe it could help us find semi-submersibles smuggling drugs as well.