The Coast Guard in late October said its acquisition authorities have approved a plan to begin soliciting bids for a small unmanned aircraft system (UAS) that can operate from its new high-endurance cutter fleet.

Release of a Request for Proposal for the small UAS is expected before the end of 2017, a spokeswoman for the Coast Guard’s Acquisition Directorate, tells HSR. The decision to proceed with release of the RFP for the Obtain Phase of the program was made by Rear Adm. Michael Haycock, the coast Guard’s chief acquisition officer and assistant commandant for Acquisition, after the service’s Executive Oversight Council conducted a review, the spokesman says in an email response to queries.

The pending solicitation will be for the award of a contract of a small UAS and operational testing of the capability on a National Security Cutter (NSC), the Coast Guard said in an Oct. 23 press release. The award is expected later in FY ’18.

“This is not only a program acquisition decision event milestone, it’s a milestone event for the Coast Guard,” Capt. Jeff Bishop, program manager sUAS for NSC, said in a statement. “We’ve never had a UAS program get to this point.”

Before getting to this point, the Coast Guard conducted evaluations of a ScanEagle sUAS supplied by Boeing’s [BA] Insitu business unit during two deployments aboard the USCG Stratton, one of the service’s NSCs. The Coast Guard procured the ScanEagle for the analyze and select phase of the program through an existing multiple-award contract managed by the Naval Air Systems Command.

The Coast Guard said that during the Stratton deployments earlier this year, the ScanEagle helped with nine of the 11 drug interdictions made by the ship, which resulted in a record seizure of more than 50,500 pounds of cocaine worth about $679.3 million.

The ScanEagle “was a major force multiplier for us,” Capt. Craig Wieschhorster, commanding officer of the Stratton, said in a statement. “It enhanced our situational awareness and increased our operational efficiency and execution. It allows me as a commanding officer to see what my boarding teams are looking at.”

The Coast Guard has contracted with shipbuilder Huntington Ingalls Industries [HII] for nine NSCs. Congress is debating whether to fund a 10th.