The United States Coast Guard is looking for a small UAS to use on its Legend-class national security cutters, to enhance the performance of these already versatile systems.
Among many missions, the cutters are used to intercept suspect vessels, patrol coastal waters, and undertake homeland security and counterterrorism missions.
“As long as we have been talking about this class of ship, there has always been the expectation that there would be an unmanned system involved,” says Cmdr. Dan Broadhurst, unmanned aircraft systems division chief in the Coast Guard's aviation capabilities office, via C4ISRNET.com.
The service will evaluate different platforms under a draft request for proposals (RFP) that was issued in the spring. The hope is that a full RFP, which is asking for “a holistic package, including the people, the antennas, the software,” can be issued by the end of the year.
According to C4ISRNET.com, a fiscal 2018 award “would bring advanced intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities along with search-and-rescue enhancements to nine vessels.”
Thus far, the service has looked at several systems that are capable of being used, but these UAS have price tags extending into the millions, so the service is looking for cheaper alternatives from the industry.
The core of the payload for whatever UAS is chosen will be mainstay electro-optical and infrared systems, but the Coast Guard is also looking for a platform that can offer persistence, or the ability to execute missions for up to 12 hours at a time.
The Coast Guard is also looking for a vendor that can supply the platform, as well as the expertise necessary to operate the UAS, since operating UAS requires a certain level of technical proficiency that is not readily available across the service, according to Jeffrey Bishop, program manager for small unmanned aircraft systems.
Bishop elaborates on this point by saying, “at this point, the government as the operator is definitely off the table for this piece of the acquisition. We don’t have the people with the needed skill sets to operate these vehicles.”
Eventually down the line, the Coast Guard would like to see its UAS fleet incorporate a degree of autonomy, so that it can, among many things, be able to detect other craft and avoid collisions.
“These are going to be the keys to the kingdom with unmanned systems,” says Broadhurst.
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