Current Models Don't Offer What Service Is Looking For
Even as other branches
of the armed forces eagerly deploy a number of unmanned aerial
vehicles -- both domestically, and in battle zones overseas -- the
United States Coast Guard says it will be several years before it
deploys UAVs to watch over the country's maritime borders.
That announcement came this week, as the Coast Guard prepares to
deploy its first national security cutter, the Bertholf --
which is equipped to launch and recover an unmanned vehicle for
long-distance surveillance missions, reports The Navy Times. But
the ship likely won't see a UAV in its hangar before 2014.
Rear Adm. Gary Blore, head of the Coast Guard’s
acquisitions directorate, said that decision isn't due to a lack of
desire to have UAVs at the ready... but rather because there isn't
a UAV currently available that meets the Coast Guard's needs.
The service had anticipated deployment of Bell's Eagle Eye
tiltrotor UAV (shown below)... but that project, part of the USCG's
"Deepwater" modernization plan, was axed in October 2007. As ANN reported, the
prototype Eagle Eye crashed in March 2006.
That experience has left the Coast Guard somewhat gun-shy about
future UAV efforts. "We got led astray with our previous project,"
Blore said. "We want to make sure that doesn’t happen again.
We want something that will serve for many years."
Blore noted the Coast Guard requested $3 million in its fiscal
year 2009 budget to study UAVs to replace the Eagle Eyes. Other
models under consideration include the Northrop Grumman M-Q8A Fire
Scout unmanned helicopter, and the increasingly commonplace General
Atomics MQ-1 Predator -- a version of which is already in coastal
patrol service in Australia.
Neither of those aircraft have exactly what the Coast Guard is
looking for, however. Of the two, the Predator probably comes
closest -- as it is able to cruise on station for hours, find a
surface target, and identify it independently. What the Predator
can't do, of course, is take off and land vertically.
The Fire Scout, due to be deployed on the US Navy's upcoming
littoral combat ship, doesn't come with surface-search radar... and
can't be deployed autonomously out-of-sight of the mother ship.
Other rotary-wing UAV offerings have similar hinderances, Blore