Question To The Coast Guard: Where Are The UAV’s?!

John Konrad
Total Views: 15
January 18, 2011

Just think of the opportunities if every Coast Guard boat station and cutter had it’s own fixed wing aircraft and could initiate search and rescue operations before rescue boat had even the chance to cast off their dock lines. With this in mind the CG Blog asks the questions; Where Are The UAV’s? They write:

UAV-Launch-From-SubmarineA couple of recent posts reminded me clearly that UAVs are a mature technology. An Army UAV program, the MQ-5B, which entered service in 1996, has reached the 100,000 hour milestone, with more than 72,000 of that being in combat..

Even the Indian Navy is using them for ocean surveillance.

This raised the question, “Where are ours?”

I know the Coast Guard does have a program to use UAV. If the program description is up to date, the Coast Guard hasn’t done any testing since 2008. I don’t think that is the case. Still you have to wonder what is happening, and why we aren’t using this technology at least in the form of land based UAVs to watch the passes in the Caribbean.

I know there are issues with using unmanned aircraft in airspace where they mix with civil and general aviation, particularly at altitudes where private aircraft may be operating without flight plans, out of contact with air controllers. As a private pilot I’ve seen the Notice to Airman posted regularly. I don’t want to see us have a mid-air either. FAA still has issues to work out for flying them over the US.

Still couldn’t we be using Scan Eagle in the Caribbean and off Colombia? Let’s try a detachment on a 210 instead of embarking a helo, to explore the possibility of possible employment from the Webber Class Fast Response Cutters.

Unmanned Air Systems may be problematic, but why don’t we have a program for Unmanned Surface Vehicles (USV). Pairing a USV with a ship can effectively almost double the ship’s search width. Creating a new generation of boats that can be controlled either by an embarked boat crew or remotely, feeding back radar and electro-optic information can make them extensions of the ships sensors for long hours or even days, in situations that would be abusive or dangerous to an embarked crew. The solutions are already out there.

gCaptain has long been a proponent of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV) technology. In fact we highlighted it as the number two item in early last year’s article titled Top 10 Failures Of The USCG, but, along with other pre-gulf oil spill predications like lack of cooperation with MMS, little progress has been made in the utilization of UAV’s offshore.

In 2009, gCaptain, along with Global Rescue, worked with Aeromech Engineering to integrate an AIS receiver aboard their FURY UAV. The idea was to launch these units off the coast of Somalia to track ships and locate pirate vessels. The idea was solid and a solution was tested to integrate the AIS ship tracking boards on the planes. But only the Navy and commercial venders showed considerable interest in the project. The CG’s interests lie instead with sharing Predator drones with the customs and border patrol.

While Predators are big and expensive, units like the Fury, which cost less than many high performance cars, have 90% of the benefits of their larger cousin.  Additionally, they can fly in weather conditions that would likely ground manned flights and their range capabilities (thousands of miles) make them ideal for covering large swaths of the ocean to find missing vessels.

UAV’s are now being used by companies like Google to increase the resolution of their maps, sailing teams to predict weather patterns, and by land-based search teams to find missing people in mountainous areas. Why do mariners lost at sea not have the same rights of survival?

It is gCaptain’s position that given the benefits of UAV utilization such as (homeland security, weather research, ship scheduling, increasing the range of AIS… the list goes on), it’s integration into modern Coast Guard operational doctrine should be implemented as soon as possible.

gCaptain will continue to fight for the use of UAV’s so stay tuned as we post updates on this safety critical technology. Until then, and in bold letters, we continue to ask the USCG;

Where Are The UAV’s?!

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