The Coast Guard completed system operational verification testing of a small unmanned aircraft system (sUAS) on Coast Guard Cutter Stratton, a national security cutter (NSC) based in Alameda, California, Jan. 2.
The Stratton crew and UAS program officials tested the power, communications, and launch and recovery systems that make up the sUAS to ensure that all parts functioned as needed and to identify areas requiring improvement. The full system consists of the aircraft, a ground control station, and a forward and an aft directional antenna, which contain the necessary fiber optic cables needed to communicate with the aircraft. Installation of the system components was completed Dec. 23; testing began a week later.
The testing prepared the Coast Guard for the sUAS deployment on Stratton planned for this winter, data from which will help the service assess how to make the most of sUAS capabilities on patrol while minimising risk. The initial deployment will use ScanEagle sUAS capability obtained through a June 2016 order on a pre-existing multiple-award contract executed by the Naval Air Systems Command. The Coast Guard will use the deployment data to refine the concept of operations and requirements for installing and integrating future systems across the NSC class. These requirements will inform a request for proposal for sUAS for NSC capability, planned for release by the end of fiscal year 2017. The contract award for the retrofit of Stratton and one additional NSC is targeted for fiscal year 2018.
The service is also looking into the possibility of integrating sUAS into other cutter operations. Lessons learned from the integration of sUAS capability on the NSCs will guide future procurement of systems on other cutter classes. “The upcoming deployment is going to inform the sUAS for NSC strategy, and the eventual sUAS for NSC solution is going to inform the Coast Guard’s long-term sUAS strategy,” said Jeff Bishop, UAS program manager.
The acquisition of sUAS for the NSCs is in the Analyze/Select phase, which involves establishing operational requirements, evaluating acquisition approaches and assessing the merits of each approach. The Coast Guard is pursuing the sUAS acquisition to provide persistent, tactical airborne intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance to enhance the cutters’ effectiveness.