The Coast Guard needs to take advantage of progress in unmanned systems (UxS) and be more aggressive in planning for and using these technologies to improve maritime domain awareness, a bipartisan group of leaders on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee said on Thursday.

“To remain ready, relevant, and responsive, the Coast Guard must take a more strategic and accelerated approach to exploit existing and future unmanned systems’ capabilities,” Committee Chairman Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.), ranking member Sam Graves (R-Mo.), and Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation Subcommittee Chairman Sean Patrick Maloney (D-N.Y.), and subcommittee ranking member Bob Gibbs (R-Ohio) wrote in a Dec. 10 letter to Adm. Karl Schultz, the Coast Guard commandant.

The letter follows a report last month from the National Academies of Sciences that calls for the Coast Guard to be more aggressive, strategic and deliberate in acquiring UxS as force multipliers as its missions become more demanding and as the use of these systems increases across the public and private sectors (Defense Daily, Nov. 12). The report was directed by the Coast Guard Authorization Act of 2018.

The congressmen urge Schultz to adopt five of the report’s recommendations including the development of a high-level UxS strategy, designation of a senior service official to champion UxS efforts, creation of a UxS program office, “expand and normalize UxS implementation, and determine multi-year funding needs for the development, use and operation of these systems.

“To date, Coast Guard initiatives designed to assess the applicability of UxS to mission areas and to introduce their capabilities into the fleet and force structure have been slower and more ad hoc than the adoption and integration of UxS in military, science, and industrial applications,” the letter said. “However, now that these technologies have matured and are more readily and reliably available, it is time for the Coast Guard to establish proactively a formal means to identify, investigate, and integrate these promising systems.”

A strategic and detailed commitment to UxS by the Coast Guard will also help it makes its case to Congress and the administration for the necessary resources to advance the use of these technologies, the congressman said.

In response to the NAS report, Schultz recently tasked his operations office to have a closer look at the service’s UxS efforts and ensure the service is “leaning in as hard as our budget and our human capacity allows us to pull those capabilities into our mission sets.”

The Coast Guard’s high-endurance National Security Cutters are deploying with ScanEagle tactical unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), which are supplied through a contractor-owned and operated model. Boeing [BA] is the ScanEagle contractor.

The service also recently completed an evaluation of several unmanned surface vessels off the coast of Hawaii for monitoring remote ocean areas, particularly for illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing. The demonstration showed promise for maritime domain awareness but also the need for onboard artificial intelligence and machine learning capabilities to speed data processing and limit data transfer to actionable information (Defense Daily, Dec. 7).