Coast Guard Slammed For Being Slow To Adopt Blue Technologies

The top Republican and Democrat on a House panel that oversees policymaking for the Coast Guard on May 8 criticized the service for taking too much time to adopt new technologies for the maritime domain that can be used on their capital assets to help fill operational gaps.

“You’re the smallest force, you have the fewest number of people, you get the least amount of money every year, and you’re the slowest to adopt technologies that can leverage you’re undermanned service in accomplishing your 11 missions,” Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.) told Rear Adm. Michael Haycock, the Coast Guard’s top acquisition official.

Hunter, who chairs the House Transportation & Infrastructure Subcommittee on Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation, cited two systems currently in wide use in the maritime environment but barely used by the Coast Guard. One is Predator long-endurance unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), of which, he said, “Everybody else has been using them but you.”

Haycock pointed out that on the week of April 30 the Coast Guard released a Request for Proposals for an upcoming technology demonstration of a long-range, ultra-long endurance UAS. The Coast Guard is interested in the long-range, ultra-endurance UAS for patrolling the drug transit zones close to Colombia and Central America.

The Coast Guard in about two weeks also expects to award a contract to a vendor to supply small UAS for operations aboard eight National Security Cutters for five to eight years, Haycock said. The Coast Guard will select between Boeing’s [BA] ScanEagle and Textron’s [TXT] AEROSONDE small UAS systems.

Haycock also noted that the Coast Guard has been evaluating hand-launched UAS systems aboard its small boats. The Coast Guard, in a blog post on May 8, said it has been evaluating the short-range UAS systems aboard its small boats for several years to better understand the risks, benefits and limitations of the technology in the maritime environment.

Hunter said the Marine Corps, Special Forces, and other small boat operators within the military services have been using hand-launched UAS for a decade.

Hunter also pointed out that the Coast Guard is still in the testing phase with Long-Range Acoustic Devices, which have been on every Navy ship for at least five years but only on one or two small cutters.

“That’s unacceptable,” Hunter said.

The devices are used to hail and warn other vessels on the water at longer distances than normal loudspeakers.

Rep. John Garamendi (D-Calif.), the ranking member on the subcommittee, agreed with Hunter that the Coast Guard is “slow to adopt” new technologies, and asked, what are the “organizational structures that retard the adoption of new technologies, new techniques, new equipment, and so forth,” adding that the committee senses that there is a “slowness, a reticence within the Coast Guard to adopt” new capabilities.

Haycock said the Coast Guard is trying to “spur more innovation within the service,” and recently stood up an Innovation Council of senior leaders to guide and oversee research and development efforts. He also said the service began a crowdsourcing initiative about a year ago that lets everyone “provide input” on various topics to generate new ideas. He said this information results in a “portfolio” of opportunities that provide the “best return on investment.”

Haycock also said he has directed the Coast Guard’s Research and Development Center to “place a greater emphasis on the actual transition of the research and development efforts into products that the operational Coast Guard can use.

Garamendi asked Haycock to provide the committee with a list of the products that the service is reviewing.

The hearing examined the Coast Guard’s adoption of Blue Technology, which refers to systems and technologies used in the maritime environment.

In his opening remarks, Hunter said that “The Coast Guard cannot accomplish all their missions by simply putting their service men and women on cutters, helicopters and planes. The service needs to be smart and strategic about where to place its assets and use its personnel. This is where data and technology can help.”

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