Coast Guard stepping up to the plate with more cutter-borne drones

Insitu’s ScanEagle drone platform was chosen by the USCG last week for a $117 million contract after an RFP issued in February to provide small Unmanned Aircraft Systems (sUAS) ISR services aboard the entire 12-ship National Security Cutter fleet.

ScanEagle has over a million hours in the air so far, and a stepped-up version, Integrator, has been adopted by the Marines as the RQ-21 Blackjack, so it is safe to say that it is a mature program.

The service deployed an interim sUAS capability on USCGC Stratton (WMSL-752) – an NSC based in Alameda, California – three times in 2017 and used the data gathered to refine the concept of operations and RFP requirements. During the tests, ScanEagle had directly assisted the ship’s crews in seizing more than $1.5 billion of cocaine and heroin.

Stratton with ScanEagle on catapult launcher/carrier to port and an MH-65 stbd. Note the CIWS above the LSO station in the twin hangar. Make no mistake, the NSC is a frigate-sized warship

The Coast Guard began infrastructure installation for more UAS use on their NSCs in April 2018, with plans to begin installing hardware on Cutters James in fall 2018, Munro in late winter 2019 and Bertholf in late spring or early summer 2019. NSC’s have a dual hangar which can permit a USCG helicopter (MH-65) to operate independently of the UAS det.

According to Janes, the drones will be used in a “contractor-owned, contractor-operated” program where Insitu personnel deploying with the cutter will operate the ScanEagle platform for 200 hours per 30 day period. They will also use a Ball Aerospace laser marker, light detection and ranging (LIDAR), and communications relay packages.

Although it is not mentioned, Insitu has been pushing ScanEagle with a ViDAR payload. Small, light and self-contained, ViDAR allows effective primary search with smaller UAVs and aircraft without radar, dramatically improving the cost-effectiveness of maritime operations such as search and rescue, maritime patrol, anti-piracy, anti-narcotics and border protection.

The Coast Guard has also been using smaller Puma hand-launched UAS from other platforms, such as icebreakers and buoy tenders.

Kevin Vollbrecht, an engineering development technician with Aerovironment Inc., launches a PUMA AE unmanned aircraft system from the flight deck of Coast Guard Cutter Polar Star during Operation Deep Freeze 2016 in the Southern Ocean Jan. 3, 2016. The UAS will play a role in selecting the optimal route through pack ice as the cutter transits to McMurdo Station, Antarctica. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Grant DeVuyst)

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About laststandonzombieisland

Let me introduce myself. I am a bit of a conflict junkie. I am fascinated by war and warfare, assassination, personal protection and weaponry ranging from spud guns and flame throwers to thermonuclear bombs and Soviet-trained Ebola monkeys. In short, if it’s violent or a tool to create violence it is kind of my thing. I have written a few thousand articles on the dry encyclopedia side for such websites as, University of Guns, Outdoor Hub, Tac-44, History Times, Big Game Hunter, Glock Forum, Firearms, and Combat Forums; as well as for print publications like England Expects, and Strike First Strike Fast. Several magazines such as Sea Classics, Military Historian and Collector, Mississippi Sportsman and Warship International have carried my pieces. Additionally I am on staff as a naval consultant and writer for Eye Spy Intelligence Magazine. Currently I am working on several book projects including an alternative history novel about the US-German War of 1916, and a biography of Southern gadfly and soldier of fortune Bennett Doty. My first novel, about the coming zombie apocalypse was released in 2012 by Necro Publications and can be found at as was the prequel, Chimera-44. I am currently working on book two of that series: "Pirates of the Zombie Coast." In my day job I am a contractor for the U.S. federal government in what could best be described as the ‘Force Protection’ field. In this I am an NRA-certified firearms, and less-than-lethal combat instructor.

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