We know the Coast Guard is working on UASs (Unmanned Aircraft Systems). Perhaps they should also be looking at optionally manned surface vessels. I’m thinking in terms boats that can continue to fill the role of the RHIBs we already have, but with the additional capability of being programmed to conduct a (semi) autonomous search that complements the mother-ship’s own search to almost double the mother-ship’s effective search capability. It looks like the technology, including obstacle avoidance, may already be out there.
Of course we can do a complementary search with a ship’s boat now, but the endurance of the crew limits this option. We can’t routinely expect a boat crew to operate effectively in a search mode for long periods, but a RHIB could operate for eight or more hours even in weather conditions that would be problematic for a boat crew. With the sensors linked to the mother-ship where sensor operators can be rotated, the search should be almost as effective as a second cutter.
The new 154 foot Hero Class Cutters (FRC) will not operate a helicopter, but a optionally manned RHIB could allow them to effectively patrol an area almost twice as large as they could search unassisted.
A large cutter might use it to complement helicopter or UAV search patterns, filling in when air resources are not available. It could also search in the shallows, close inshore, where we could not take a ship.
Because it is relatively difficult to detect, an optionally manned RHIB, scouting 20-30 miles ahead of the cutter, might detect smugglers that attempt to avoid the cutter by using their own scouting vessels.
The Coast Guard did look at the “Protector,” a small unmanned surface vessel, in 2006, but that looks like a very different concept of operation.
The Singapore Navy already seems to have adopted this technology. Units of various capability are already being offered by Italian, German, and Israeli vendors, some with partners in the US.