The Coast Guard earlier this month approved a full-rate production decision for its small unmanned aircraft systems (sUAS), which frees the service to move forward to completing deployments of the systems aboard its fleet of National Security Cutters (NSCs).

The Coast Guard currently has the ScanEagle sUAS systems on five NSCs and will outfit three additional ships this year, the service said on Wednesday. Congress has provided construction funding for 11 NSCs and long-lead funding for one more ship, which are built by Huntington Ingalls Industries [HII].

The NSC is the Coast Guard’s high-endurance cutter.

The Coast Guard in June 2016 awarded Boeing’s [BA] Insitu business unit a potential eight-year, $117.2 million contract to provide sUAS for the NSCs on a contractor-owned, contractor-operated basis.

Terms of the contract require the company to provide 200 hours per month of UAS services and Insitu determines how many ScanEagle aircraft and related equipment to take aboard a ship based on the length of the patrol, a Coast Guard spokeswoman told Defense Daily. Four field service representatives are aboard for each deployment, she said.

The full production decision was made on March 4 by Rear Adm. Michael Johnston, assistant commandant for Acquisition and Chief Acquisition Officer for the Coast Guard. The Acquisition Decision Event-3 approval maintains the accelerated delivery schedule called for by Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Karl Schultz in 2019.

Schultz has described the sUAS capability aboard the NSCs as a “game changer,” saying it has proven to be a force multiplier for the ships’ crews. He has also said the service would like to add the capability to its eventual fleet of 25 medium-endurance Offshore Patrol Cutters.

The Coast Guard’s fiscal year 2021 budget request includes $600,000 to equip the ninth NSC with the sUAS capability.