The Coast Guard this week released issued a solicitation for contractor provided surveillance services using small unmanned aircraft systems (sUAS) aboard the entire fleet of National Security Cutters (NSCs).
The commercially-acquired services include surveillance, detection, classification and identification of a wide range of targets using the ship-based sUAS systems, according to the Feb. 7 Request for Proposals (RFP). The unmanned systems will provide real-time imagery, data, target illumination, related communications and potentially other capabilities to the NSC and other “government assets,” the RFP says.
The service plans to award a contract later this year for sUAS services on two NSCs and options to install the capability on the rest of the fleet by 2022. The unmanned systems will help the Coast Guard with a range of missions, including drug and migrant interdictions, defense readiness, living marine resources, search and rescue, marine environmental protection, other law enforcement, and ports, waterways and coastal security.
The Coast Guard currently has contracted for nine NSCs and has commissioned six. House and Senate appropriators are debating whether to fund a 10th. The Coast Guard’s original program of record was for eight NSCs, but Sen. Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) has said he wants 12 of the vessels to achieve a one-for-one replacement with the dozen aging Hamilton-class high-endurance cutters that the NSCs are replacing. The 418-foot ships are built by Huntington Ingalls Industries [HII] in Cochran’s state.
The Coast Guard has been examining the use of various small and even hand-launched UAS for operations aboard some of its various cutters, including the medium icebreaker Healy. Under contract with Boeing’s [BA] Insitu that was awarded in 2016, the Coast Guard has been evaluating the company’s ScanEagle sUAS aboard NSCs to help develop requirements and operating concepts.
Last month, the cutter Stratton completed a deployment that resulted in more than $721 million in cocaine being seized during multiple interdictions aided by the ScanEagle. Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Paul Zukunft in January said the sUAS evaluations aboard the NSCs have provided the cutter crews with new ways to more stealthily track illegal drug shipments at sea before moving in for an intercept and preventing the traffickers from dumping their drugs.
“The Coast Guard aviation acquisition team has spent the last three years conducing market research, planning and analysis,” Lt. Cmdr. Jeff Sullens, deputy sUAS for NSC program manager, said in a statement on Thursday. “This resulting request for industry proposals is a milestone event, as it marks the start of the Coast Guard’s operational employment of unmanned assets.”
The Statement of Objectives accompanying the RFP says that the sUAS capability must perform up to 12 hours of continuous intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance operations daily aboard each NSC. The aircraft must transmit any night camera imagery to cutter boats and manned aircraft that can receive the data through a government provided remote video terminal.
For the sUAS services, the Coast Guard is taking a page from the Navy’s playbook. The Navy has been employing contractor-owned and operated sUAS services for ISR missions for at least several years. Last June, the Navy selected Insitu, Textron Inc.’s [TXT] AAI unit, Academi Training Center, and PAE, to compete for $1.7 billion in potential task orders for sea and land-based UAS ISR services in support of the Defense Department and other government agencies.
Under that award, Insitu and AAI are eligible to compete for sea and land-based orders while Academi and PAE can only compete for land-based awards.
In addition to the air vehicles and sensors, the Coast Guard RFP includes ground control stations and related communication, navigation and identification systems requirements. The air vehicles must have at least a 40 nautical mile range in clear conditions with the objective requirement being 100 nautical miles.
The Coast Guard plans to outfit two NSCs with the sUAS capabilities in 2018, one in 2019, and then two per year through 2022 to achieve complete installation aboard the current nine vessels.
Proposals are due to the Coast Guard by March 9.