The Coast Guard on March 28 issued a draft Request for Proposal (RFP) for its plans to acquire small unmanned aircraft systems (sUAS) to deploy aboard its fleet of National Security Cutters (NSC) to provide the vessels with airborne tactical surveillance.

The Coast Guard plans to award a five-year contract to procure the sUAS and related ground systems, support and training. The Coast Guard said the draft RFP will allow for industry feedback so that the service can better define its procurement strategy.

The draft statement of objectives accompanying the draft RFP says the sUAS NSC program “is to deliver an effective, low cost solution to address the NSC’s existing aerial surveillance coverage gap and to provide the NSC with a persistent, tactical airborne intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance capability that can remain airborne for at least 12 hours per day.”

The UAS systems will be used in support of all the NSC’s missions and in all of the ship’s operating areas.

The Coast Guard currently operates five NSCs and accepted delivery of the sixth last December. Three more vessels are under production contracts with prime contractor Huntington Ingalls Industries [HII]. Senate appropriators have proposed adding funding for a 10th NSC although House appropriators have not.

Last summer the Coast Guard contracted with Boeing’s [BA] Insitu business unit to operate a contractor-owned ScanEagle UAS aboard an NSC to provide the vessel with more operational utility, complement manned aircraft assets, and enhance situational awareness at sea. The ScanEagle is an interim system that also provides operational data that the Coast Guard is using to inform the acquisition of the final sUAS solution, a service spokeswoman tells HSR.

 Whether the service decides to purchase the sUAS systems outright or go with an approach similar to that being done with Insitu at the moment is undecided.

“The Coast Guard will conduct a business case analysis to determine the most effective and efficient ownership/operation plan for the sUAS capability, which could include a blended approach of government and contractor ownership and contractor operation,” the spokeswoman says in an email response to questions.

The threshold range objective for the sUAS is 40 nautical miles in clear conditions with an objective range of 100 nautical miles. The SOO says the air vehicle must have the space and weight to concurrently operate electro-optic and infrared sensors, a removable sensor payload, VHF/UHF communications relay, aeronautical transponder, and non-visible IR marker.

The final RFP is planned for release later in FY ’17 and the contract award to retrofit the Coast Guard Cutter Stratton and one additional NSC is slated for FY ’18, the spokeswoman says.