Oct. 23, 2017 —
An aircrew from the Helicopter Interdiction Tactical Squadron (HITRON) in Jacksonville, Florida, pursues a suspected drug-smuggling vessel several hundred miles southwest of Acapulco, Mexico, Sept. 6, 2017, as filmed by the small unmanned aircraft system deployed on Coast Guard Cutter Stratton. After the HITRON crew fired warning shots, Stratton boarding team members apprehended three suspected smugglers and seized more than 700 pounds of cocaine from the vessel. U.S. Coast Guard graphic. Click here for the full video of the interdiction.
The Coast Guard’s Small Unmanned Aircraft System (sUAS) for National Security Cutter (NSC) Program reached a milestone Oct. 20 when it received approval to move on to the next phase, which will include acquisition and initial operational testing of sUAS capability on board an NSC.
The service’s approval allows the program to proceed with its planned release of a request for proposal (RFP) and contract award for sUAS for NSC capability. During this phase, the program will install sUAS infrastructure on an NSC and conduct operational testing of the sUAS capability prior to deploying the system across the rest of the fleet.
“This is not only a program acquisition decision event milestone; it’s a milestone event for the Coast Guard,” said Jeff Bishop, sUAS for NSC program manager. “We’ve never had a UAS program get to this point.”
The prototype sUAS deployments on Stratton have already improved operations. Having the sUAS on board “was a major force multiplier for us; it enhanced our situational awareness and increased our operational efficiency and execution,” said Capt. Craig Wieschhorster, Stratton commanding officer. “It allows me as commanding officer to see what my boarding teams are looking at. Basically, it gives us the tactical advantage out there and strengthens litigation support once suspects are taken to U.S. courts.”
The sUAS on Stratton aided interdictions in nine of the 11 drug seizures the ship made during its summer deployment; this was part of a record offload of more than 50,550 pounds of cocaine, worth approximately $679.3 million.
The increased situational awareness, persistent surveillance and video capability provided by the sUAS “is a capability that we don’t currently have. Some people were skeptical: it’s unmanned and small. But this is much, much more than just flying around with a camera,” Bishop added.
The Coast Guard plans to release a request for proposal for sUAS for NSC capability in early fiscal year 2018. The contract award for the retrofit of Stratton and installation on one other NSC is targeted for later that fiscal year.
For more information: Unmanned Aircraft Systems program page