Drone Launch and Recovery System in 20 foot Container

NavyRecognition reports DARPA is working on a system that will launch and recover drones of up to 900 pounds that will fit inside a standard 20 foot container.

These could easily handle the Scan Eagle, which is only about 50 pounds currently planned fo the National Security Cutters. Significantly it could handle even more capable UAVs. The UAV in the video weighs 400 pounds.

This is a part of DARPA’s TERN program we discussed earlier.

UAS for the Webber Class?

Coast Guard Compass is reporting that the R&D Center has conducted tests of an unmanned aerial surveillance system from the Webber class WPC Richard Etheridge.

The experiment is being done on the cheap, using surplus Marine Corp WASP III UAS.

This particular aircraft is very small (less than a pound), with a maximum speed of about 40 knots, an endurance of about 45 minutes, and a nominal range of 5 km, so it is not going to get very far from the launch platform. Sensors are limited to color and IR video, so it is still like “looking through a staw” in terms of its ability to search, but it might be useful for taking a closer look at targets, without the necessity of moving the CG vessel to intercept, particularly at night; for documenting a drug bust; or for keeping an eye on the disengaged side of a potentially hostile target during a boarding. The recovery method used was to land in the water, but we could certainly do better.

I can’t say I am particularly impressed with what I have seen of the system so far, since I can pick up something similar at the local hobby shop (google “First Person Video”). I have a friend who flies one, including the ability to use GPS to fly way-points and automatically return to the launch point and land, all for less than $1,000, but it is a start and at least it is a recognition of a need and an opportunity.

Still think we could fly Scan Eagle from the WPCs.

DARPA program to develop long-range UAVs for launch from small ships

Military Aerospace and Electronics is reporting a contract, “…to develop a medium-altitude long-endurance UAV for long-term maritime surveillance that can launch and recover from relatively small ships to provide airborne intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) and strike mobile targets anywhere, around the clock…The ultimate goal for a TERN UAV and launch system to enable persistent ISR and strike capabilities with payloads of 600 pounds while operating at ranges as long as 900 nautical miles from a host vessel.”

These would apparently be fixed wing UAVs , with two aircraft being able to maintain a 24 hour a day orbit. A flight demonstration is expected in 2017.

Note the small ships they refer to are only small compared to aircraft carriers, “The TERN system should be able to operate from several relatively small ship types in rough seas, including the 2,784-ton Independence-class littoral combat ship (LCS), which is 418 feet long and 104 feet wide, with a large aft-located flight deck. Other ships of interest are amphibious transport docks, dock landing ships, and Military Sealift Command cargo ships.”

They might still be capable of operating from some of the Coast Guard’s largest ships.

Brits Test UAVs from 89 foot Vessel

Think Defense is reporting Britain’s DSTL (Defense Science and Technology Laboratory) is contucting trials of UAVs from the Naval Surface Warfare Center, Combatant Craft Division’s experimental craft Stiletto.

Three different UAVs were picked for the demonstration and launched from Stiletto’s flight deck, including DRS’ Neptune. DSTL personnel were on board, and observed launch, payload operation, and recovery evolutions near Naval Air Station Patuxent River in Patuxent River

I hope the Coast Guard will look at the results. It appears there is a good possibility of operating UAVs from the Webber Class Fast Response Cutters.

NAVAIR and CG Work ISR Interoperability

Defense Industry Daily provided the video above with the encouraging news that NAVAIR and the Coast Guard are working together to develop an open architecture system that will permit real time data link of “video and metadata” including the ability of, what I believe is a Response Boat, Medium, to take control of the camera on the airborne Intelligence Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) asset.

Larger Firescout UAS. Too Big for the Coast Guard?

For quite some time the Coast Guard has been planning on putting helicopter like Unmanned Aerial Systems on their ships. Interest has centered on the Navy’s MQ-8B Firescout. I suspect the hangar designs for the National Security Cutters and Offshore Patrol Cutters were based in part on the size of the MQ-8B.

File:US Navy 100514-N-0000X-001 Civilian artisans from Fleet Readiness Center East perform maintenance and corrosion assessments .jpg

United States Navy photo with the ID 100514-N-0000X-001, MQ-8B (smaller UAS) undergoing maintenance

Now DefenseNews is reporting the Navy is announcing they will stop production of the 3,150 pound max gross weight “B” model and go to a much larger 6,000 pound max gross weight “C” model based on the Bell 407 Jet Ranger. This aircraft is not only approaches the size of the H-65, it is actually longer.

File:PHI Bell 407.jpg

Bell 407 Jet Ranger, photo from Gerry Metzler, IMG_383

The larger MQ-8C certainly offers advantages over the smaller “B” model, including the ability to maintaining 24/7 surveillance with only three flights a day. The Navy believes they will be able to deploy three on their frigates and two in addition to an H-60 on the LCSs. The NSCs probably have adequate space, but it is unclear if the space provided for in the specifications for the Offshore Patrol Cutters will allow them the emulate the LCSs’ aviation facilities or if they will be able to carry even one of these larger UAS in addition to a manned helicopter.

What Do We Do With All These Drones Now?

Defense News reports the Air Force is now attempting to figure out how to employ the hundreds of Reaper and Predator UAVs that entered USAF service or are still on order that now appear excess as a result of the end of the US participation in the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Several options are considered but none appears to be sufficient to use the large number that will be in the inventory.

There is one very interesting statistic included in the report, comparing the cost of the Reaper UAV with a manned alternative, the MC-12:

“And it’s not cheap to fly a Reaper. An hour of air time costs about $8,000, according to a 2012 audit by the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. Compare that to the $6,000-per-hour tab for an MC-12 Project Liberty, a twin-engine King Air plane flown by a pilot and a co-pilot with a technician and analyst in the back.”

Related: Surplus ISR Aircraft–MC-12Ws