An Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) consists of an unmanned aircraft, its mission payloads, launch and recovery equipment, ground control station, and control and data links. The Coast Guard is preparing to employ UAS to augment the service’s land- and cutter-based aircraft, and expand the surveillance range of surface assets, such as the National Security Cutter (NSC).
The Coast Guard is interested in UAS that can remain on station for extended periods, expand maritime domain awareness, and disseminate actionable intelligence on maritime hazards and threats. By leveraging developmental work completed by other uniformed services and federal government agencies, the Coast Guard is considering cost-effective UAS solutions that meet cutter-based and land-based requirements.
The Coast Guard is moving forward with plans to augment its aviation fleet with land-based, mid-altitude UAS to provide strategic, wide-area surveillance and cutter-based, low-altitude UAS to provide tactical, on-demand capability. Both land- and cutter-based UAS major system acquisitions remain in the pre-acquisition phase, although mission needs for land-based UAS has been approved by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), and the validation of mission needs for cutter-based UAS is in progress. Concepts of operation for both land- and cutter-based UAS are also in development. The UAS project is focused on technologically mature systems, commonality with DHS and Department of Defense programs, and leveraging other agencies’ UAS experience.
In 2008, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and the Coast Guard established a Joint Program Office to coordinate maritime land-based UAS policy and operations. In 2009, CBP acquired its first maritime-variant Predator UAS, the MQ-9 Guardian. Coast Guard and CBP flight crews have jointly operated the Guardian at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla., and Corpus Christi, Texas, since 2010.
For cutter-based UAS solutions, the Coast Guard is monitoring the U.S. Navy’s ship-based UAS program. While awaiting progression on the major system acquisition, the Coast Guard is pursuing a non-major acquisition of a small UAS for the NSC as an interim, cost-effective UAS capability. To support this strategy, the Coast Guard plans to conduct technical demonstrations of the ScanEagle aboard an NSC during 2012 and 2013.