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RDC launches Low Cost Maritime Domain Awareness Pilot Study



A Spatial Integration Systems Watcher diesel-powered unmanned surface vehicle (left) and Saildrone wind-powered unmanned surface vehicles (right) operate near the coast of Oahu, Hawaii, Oct. 7, 2020, as part of the Coast Guard Research and Development Center's Low Cost Maritime Domain Awareness Pilot Study. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

The Coast Guard Research and Development Center (RDC) Oct. 7 kicked off a month-long evaluation of unmanned surface vehicles (USV) and their ability to provide persistent maritime domain awareness in remote areas of the ocean.

This evaluation is utilizing contractor-owned, contractor-operated autonomous ship systems by Saildrone and Spatial Integration Systems (SIS), as well as the RDC’s autonomous research vessel produced by Boston-based autonomous technology developer Sea Machines and Louisiana-based shipbuilder Metal Shark. The focus: determine if USVs can detect ships in an assigned patrol area and provide actionable data.

This evaluation is being conducted off the south shore of Oahu through Nov. 5 as part of the Low Cost Maritime Domain Awareness Pilot Study.

“This is an exciting opportunity for the Coast Guard to evaluate the state of the market in unmanned surface vehicle technology. Unmanned technology and sensors are a force multiplier we can leverage to alleviate the constraints of limited assets and people to surveil large areas of open ocean,” said Capt. Daniel P. Keane, RDC commanding officer. “Knowledge gained from this study will better inform our future tactics and strategies to execute several Coast Guard missions, including protecting critical natural living marine resources from illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing."

While USV technology is potentially applicable to a broad scope of Coast Guard law enforcement missions, the primary focus of this evaluation is its ability to combat illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing.

“The RDC met with Coast Guard Pacific Area and District 14 to discuss requirements needed to successfully evaluate this technology from an operational standpoint,” said Scot Tripp, program manager. “One of their major concerns in this region is detection of IUU fishing, which accounts for billions of dollars lost annually in the global fishing industry.” Another concern was a lack of actionable data available to their operators, he added. USVs potentially have the ability to provide insight that could lead operational decision makers to act. 

The Saildrone is a 7-meter autonomous wind-powered vessel and the SIS Watcher is a 7-meter inboard diesel-powered vessel. In addition to their ability to provide maritime domain awareness through sensor performance and communication, operational functions such as launch and recovery, endurance (30 days) and maintenance will be evaluated. “The Coast Guard and its many partners will observe, recommend different test scenarios and evaluate the potential operational compatibility,” Tripp said. Partners include the Navy, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Department of Homeland Security, Customs and Border Protection, local port authorities and federal laboratories.

The RDC is conducting the operation in close coordination with local units.

For more information: Research, Development, Test and Evaluation program page and Research and Development Center page.