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US Coast Guard looks to expand unmanned operations

Having benefitted from the deployment of ScanEagle unmanned aerial systems (UASs) aboard its National Security Cutters (NSCs), the US Coast Guard (USCG) is now looking at future unmanned surface vessel operations.

“Last [year], our Research and Development Center tested the ability of unmanned surface vessels to augment traditional ship and aviation capabilities for operations in the far reaches of the Pacific Ocean,” Admiral Karl Schultz, USCG commandant, said on 11 March during his annual State of the Coast Guard address.

“We learnt that the future of our unmanned systems strategy will most likely rely on more diverse systems and effective integration of machine-learning to unlock actionable data for coast guard operators,” he said. “These are valuable lessons as we stand up an unmanned system element within our coast guard requirements shop to consider how unmanned technology can augment our future fleet.”

During a virtual media roundtable following the address, Adm Schultz noted, “If we’re really going to try to leverage and embrace technology, we’ve got to lean in now. We don’t have a ‘requirements boss’ for that [unmanned systems].”

The new unmanned systems office will consider surface and potentially subsurface unmanned system development.

However, Schultz cautioned, the USCG will not set new standards for such work, adding the service works best when it is not on the “bleeding edge” of such technological development.

“We’ll be looking at commercial off the shelf and other fellow services. There is a finite amount of R&D (research and development) dollars,” he said.

Acknowledging that 2020 report by the US National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine called on the USCG to proceed more aggressively and deliberately to take advantage of unmanned developments, Adm Schultz agreed the service needed to pursue such opportunities.

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