UAS deployment nets historic drug interdiction

The Coast Guard completed the second of three planned shipboard demonstrations of unmanned aircraft system capabilities aboard Coast Guard Cutter Bertholf. These exercises are part of an ongoing effort to explore UAS capabilities and shipboard handling techniques. The Coast Guard is using knowledge gained from these demonstrations to inform a future cutter-based UAS acquisition project.

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The Coast Guard completed the second of three planned shipboard demonstrations of unmanned aircraft system capabilities aboard Coast Guard Cutter Bertholf. These exercises are part of an ongoing effort to explore UAS capabilities and shipboard handling techniques. The Coast Guard is using knowledge gained from these demonstrations to inform a future cutter-based UAS acquisition project.

UAS team members - including Lt. Nathaniel Champlin, the first Coast Guard aviator certified to fly the ScanEagle UAS - ready the ScanEagle for operations.  U.S. Coast Guard photo.
UAS team members – including Lt. Nathaniel Champlin, the first Coast Guard aviator certified to fly the ScanEagle UAS – ready the ScanEagle for operations. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

During the two-week deployment, the UAS demonstration team operated a ScanEagle UAS for more than 90 hours of flight time and aided in the interdiction of nearly 600 kilograms of cocaine – the first Coast Guard interdiction conducted with the support of an embarked UAS asset.

The ScanEagle was deployed by Bertholf to provide real-time surveillance and location information of a suspected go-fast vessel. The UAS located the target vessel and maintained constant on-scene surveillance until the cutter-based MH-65D helicopter and response boats arrived to interdict and apprehend the vessel’s crew. The seamless handoff between responding assets – including the U.S. Customs and Border Protection P-3 aircraft that first spotted the target vessel; UAS; upgraded MH-65D; next-generation response boats and Bertholf, with the regular communication to shore commands – resulted in the successful operation.

The UAS evaluation was conducted by a team of technicians and aviators from Coast Guard Headquarters, the Coast Guard Research and Development Center, Coast Guard Air Station North Bend, Ore., and Insitu Inc.

The entire test period included concurrent flight operations with a MH-65D helicopter stationed aboard the Bertholf. UAS testing included use of the daytime camera, the combination electro-optical/infrared camera and auto detection software.

UAS team members conducted UAS flight operations concurrently with MH-65D operations aboard Bertholf.  U.S. Coast Guard photo.
UAS team members conducted UAS flight operations concurrently with MH-65D operations aboard Bertholf. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

UAS evaluation is a key part of the Coast Guard’s efforts to develop a comprehensive understanding of UAS requirements, capabilities and limitations and to oversee initial training for the first cadre of cutter-based UAS operators. Results from the demonstration project are being used to support Coast Guard decisions regarding operational requirements for a future cutter-based UAS acquisition. The Coast Guard has identified cutter-based UAS as a key component to enhancing the operational effectiveness of its major cutter fleet through on-demand, persistent surveillance capabilities.

The next phase of UAS demonstration will focus on quantitative data gathering aboard a national security cutter in early 2014. For more information on the Coast Guard’s unmanned aircraft system efforts, please visit Coast Guard Acquistions.

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