NATIONAL HARBOR, Md.—The Coast Guard this week released its first strategy for unmanned systems (UxS), laying out a vision for the capabilities the service will need in the coming decade and how it expects to obtain them.

In addition to employing UxS in the air, sea and subsurface domains, the

U.S. Coast Guard Unmanned Systems Strategic Plan also says the service will need capabilities to counter-UxS used for illicit purposes and develop a regulatory framework for the safe and lawful use of these systems in the maritime transportation system.

The potential operations scenarios for the employment of UxS run the gamut of the Coast Guard’s missions, and include things like defense readiness, search and rescue, detecting and monitoring illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing, ice operations, drug and migrant interdiction, marine safety and environmental protection, logistics support, aids to navigation, and ports, waterways and coastal security.

The Coast Guard currently operates medium-range unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) aboard its fleet of high-endurance national security cutters (NSCs), partners with Customs and Border Protection on the use of longer-range, long-endurance Reaper drones, and flies short-range UAS off some of its small boats. The service has also evaluated short-range drones off its medium polar icebreaker in the Arctic region and autonomous surface vessels in the Pacific Ocean near Hawaii.

Currently, the Coast Guard is surveying the market for Group 2 and 3 UAS, which have a maximum gross take-off weight between 21 and nearly 1,320-pounds, and related sensors. The service has also participated in the Navy’s Task Force 59 evaluations of UxS technologies, exploring UAS that can take-off vertically, transition to fixed-wing flight to achieve longer-ranges and endurance, and then land vertically.

The nearer-term focus is on obtaining new UAS that can operate from the Coast Guard’s various cutters and boats, Rear Adm. Douglas Schofield, assistant commandant for acquisition, told Defense Daily on Wednesday during the Navy League’s Sea-Air-Space Exposition. In a year or two, the service will begin formally surveying the market for unmanned surface vessels, he said. Still, the Coast Guard is taking advantage of opportunities like the SAS show to review the current state of the market, see how it fares against the UxS Strategic Plan, and give industry an opportunity to better understand the service’s needs and plans, he also said.

For the medium-range UAS used aboard the NSCs, Boeing’s [BA] Insitu business unit provides its Group 2 ScanEagle drones on a contractor-owned, contractor-operated basis. The 28-page UxS strategy says that the acquisition process going forward will continue “with a focus on contracting services rather than buying systems.”

That said, the document also says the Coast Guard will also consider buying and operating systems, as well as obtaining data-as-a-service.

With the commercial market for UxS burgeoning, the Coast Guard wants to be in a position to quickly take advantage of these technologies.

“We will pursue efficiencies in the requirements development process and leverage all acquisition authorities to accelerate the pace of introducing these innovative technologies into the Coast Guard,” the strategy says.

The strategy outlines five strategic goals, including pursuing a “capability-centric approach” for UxS and counter-UxS, establishing a framework for wider use of UxS, aligning its research and acquisition efforts to “test small, learn, and scale smart,” partnering across the Departments of Homeland Security and Defense and with other stakeholders to leverage lessons and capabilities elsewhere and ensure interoperability, and finally to develop requirements for data, computing, communications, standards and interfaces that will result in an “operational data ecosystem” that ties platforms and sensors and takes advantage of enablers like artificial intelligence and machine learning.

Some other important enablers and technologies include doctrine and training, automation and autonomy, tactical networks, and data management, the document says.