The initial deployments of small unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) aboard the Coast Guard’s National Security Cutters (NSCs) are proving to be a “game changer” and the service will accelerate the use of the systems aboard the fleet of new-high endurance cutters, Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Karl Schultz said on Thursday.

The current fielding schedule for the ScanEagle UAS is to equip two ships per year but Schultz said he’s accelerating the schedule to four per year.

“ScanEagle is truly a game changer for our crews and I’m proud to report that this technology is coming to every National Security Cutter in our fleet,” Schultz said from Coast Guard Base Los Angeles/Long Beach, where he gave the annual State of the Coast Guard Address. “But, and there’s always a but, not quickly enough. I’d like to accelerate the fielding of this technology, doubling the delivery schedule of this key enabler from two to four systems per year. At that rate, by the end of my tenure as commandant, we will field full ScanEagle capability across our entire National Security Cutter fleet.”

A ScanEagle sUAS and launcher sit on the flight deck of the Coast Guard National Security Cutter Stratton. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Mark Barney.

The Coast Guard is so impressed with the force multiplier impact it’s getting from ScanEagle that Schultz said the service wants UAS aboard its entire planned fleet of medium-endurance Offshore Patrol Cutters (OPCs).

“Additionally, we will work aggressively to assure each of our Offshore Patrol Cutters sails from the shipyard equipped with this same UAS technology,” he said.

The Coast Guard last June contracted with Boeing’s [BA] Insitu business unit to provide the ScanEagle as contractor-owned/contractor-operated services aboard the NSCs. Textron’s [TXT] Textron Systems segment, the losing bidder, protested the award, prompting the Coast Guard to twice take corrective actions that still resulted in the award to Insitu, with the award finally sticking in December.

The Coast Guard is currently contracted with Huntington Ingalls Industries [HII] to build 11 418-foot NSCs. Eastern Shipbuilding earlier this year began cutting steel on the first OPC and will deliver at least nine ships to the Coast Guard under its contract. The service eventually plans to acquire 25 of the 360-foot vessels.

Schultz said the NSC Stratton earlier this year completed a 104-day patrol that stretched from the Bering Sea in the north to off the coast of Colombia in the south, employing the “ScanEagle unmanned aerial system to great effect across a wide range of operational missions.”

The Stratton was used for several operations to evaluate small UAS capabilities, always with ScanEagle, before hosting a competition for the UAS services. The assessments were very positive.

Schultz also praised the sensors used on the ScanEagle that provide “automatic surface search and cueing.” Insitu is equipping its ScanEagles for the Coast Guard with an EO900 electro-optic imager, mid-wave infrared 3.5 camera, Australia’s Sentient Vision Systems’ ViDAR optical radar, communications relay, laser marker, and automatic identification system, the company said last summer after winning the potential $117 million contract to provide its UAS service to the Coast Guard.

The Stratton is the only NSC currently operating with ScanEagles. The NSCs James and Munro have been outfitted with government-owned infrastructure but have not yet begun operating with the UAS, a Coast Guard spokeswoman told Defense Daily, adding that the government infrastructure is currently being installed on the NSC Kimball.

As new NSCs are delivered, the plan is to outfit them with UAS systems as they prepare for operational service, she said.