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US Coast Guard searches for long-range UAV

Long-range and high-altitude unmanned air systems are back in the US Coast Guard's long-term acquisition interests, according to a newly-posted federal notice.

A request for information issued on 30 August by the USCG's Research and Development Center expresses interest in the most advanced UAS on the market, with a minimum endurance of 24h, "long range" and land-basing among the requirements.

The unmanned aircraft would perform a role similar to the capabilities of Northrop Grumman's MQ-4C Triton for the US Navy and General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc Guardian, which is a maritime patrol version of the Predator B.

The concept envisions operating pre-planned routes with the UAV in an offshore environment beyond line of sight from the ground control station. That capability would also require the manufacturer to create organic sensors for surveillance to detect and prosecute surface targets, according to the RFI.

USCG’s research and development center has not defined the range or endurance parameters in the sources sought, but expects industry to provide available envelopes and feasible future options. The UAV must reach a threshold of 24 hours endurance. The vehicle would loiter over targets while providing near real-time tracking and surveillance data, the RFI states.

USCG’s recent UAV acquisitions have focused on its national security cutter fleet. Last year, the service awarded Insitu a contract to operate its ScanEagle aboard a USCG cutter. In April, the USCG released a request for proposal to expand small UAV operations across the cutter fleet.

The revival interest comes more than a decade after the demise of the Coast Guard's failed Deepwater modernisation programme, which included requirements for the Northrop RQ-4A and the cancelled Bell Helicopter HV-911 Eagle Eye tiltorotor.

The coast guard's maritime patrol fleet currently includes several manned aircraft, including the Lockheed Martin HC-130J for long-range surveillance and the Airbus HC-144 Ocean Sentry for medium-range surveillance.

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