Unmanned Aircraft Systems
Maritime Domain Awareness (MDA), a central Coast Guard operational concept, refers to the effective understanding of anything associated with the maritime domain that could impact the security, safety, economy, or environment of the United States.
Cutter- and land-based Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UASs) will contribute to MDA by providing persistent, wide area surveillance, detection, classification, and identification functions. To accomplish this, UAS payloads will typically include maritime radar, electro-optical and infrared cameras, and an automatic identification system (AIS) receiver, at a minimum.
Cutter-based UAS is intended to serve as tactical, on-demand capability aboard the NSC and OPC fleets. As an integral component of the cutter's force package, UAS greatly extends the cutter's surveillance horizon beyond that provided by shipboard sensors and embarked manned aircraft. During 2012 and 2013, the Coast Guard successfully demonstrated small UAS (sUAS) capabilities aboard CGC STRATTON and CGC BERTHOLF as an initial step for the NSC fleet. In August 2013, the Coast Guard initiated its non-major acquisition of sUAS for the NSC fleet, and is preparing to procure its first cutter-based systems in FY16/17.
Additionally, specialized Coast Guard aviation personnel are jointly operating the MQ-9 Guardian, a variant of the Predator-B, with Customs and Border Protection (CBP). This strategic, land-based UAS enables both agencies to conduct wide area surveillance comparable to that of Coast Guard and joint service maritime patrol aircraft. This groundbreaking capability is employed on a daily basis in and near U.S. territorial waters, as well as forward deployed locations in the source and transit zone, via beyond line-of-sight (BLOS) connectivity.
In 2009, the Coast Guard established a UAS Standardization Branch at ATC Mobile, an operational UAS cadre at CGAS Corpus Christi, and several program-level billets at headquarters to support these groundbreaking endeavors. These personnel, along with their U.S. Navy and CBP counterparts, continue to develop this critical skill set and refine tactics, techniques, procedures, and regulations in support of future UAS fielding within the Service.