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.
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.