The Coast Guard issued a Request for Information for land-based high-endurance drone aircraft to help it examine the potential of these systems to patrol vast ocean areas for illegal drug shipments.
Earlier this year Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Paul Zukunft said the service wants to obtain land-based, forward-deployed unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) to patrol the transit zones in the Eastern Pacific and Caribbean Sea. Traffickers, typically operating out of Columbia in South America, use ships to carry their illegal drugs in bulk before landing them in Central America and breaking down the shipments into smaller parcels so they can be more easily transported into the U.S. with less likelihood of detection.
The Coast Guard currently operates a range of manned and unmanned aircraft as well as ships in the transit zones but overall it is lacking in the surveillance assets needed for a more complete picture of illegal activity in these areas.
The information request for the long-range, land-based/ultra-long endurance UAS was issued by the Research and Development Center. It says candidate systems “would require organic sensors for surveillance; to detect, classify, identify, and prosecute targets of interest.”
The Coast Guard says the threshold endurance of the UAS system is 24 hours but beyond that it hasn’t defined what it means by long-range and ultra-long endurance, and instead is relying on industry to weigh in on the “available envelope.”
General requirements for the system include flying pre-planned routes to help detect, classify, track and prosecute surface targets will providing near real-time data distribution, have the ability to loiter over targets of interest, respond to direction commands from the ground control station, and operate in transit zone weather conditions.
The Coast Guard has said the long-range UAS could be based in El Salvador where the U.S. has access to a forward operating location.
The Coast Guard has been evaluating small UAS platforms to operate off the decks of some of its ships and the service also relies on two longer-range maritime variants of the General Atomics-built Predator operated by Customs and Border Protection but Zukunft wants long-range systems dedicated to Coast Guard missions.