The U.S. Coast Guard is a relatively small military service with a broad scope of responsibilities spanning 11 statutory missions to ensure the country’s maritime security, safety, and economic and environmental stewardship. The Coast Guard fulfills these diverse missions in a maritime domain that encompasses more than 100,000 miles of coastline and inland waterways and the largest Exclusive Economic Zone in the world, covering some 4.5 million square miles of sea from Puerto Rico to Guam and from the Arctic Circle to American Samoa, south of the equator.1
The Coast Guard deploys about 120 cutters,2 200 aircraft,3 and several hundred smaller vessels and special purpose craft4 and a force of about 41,000 active duty personnel, 7,000 reservists, 31,000 auxiliary members, and 8,500 full-time civilian employees.5 Except for a small number of aerial systems—further described in Chapter 4—that expand the surveillance range of some cutters, all Coast Guard vessels and aircraft are manned. In contrast, during the past two decades and more, the U.S. Navy and other branches of the U.S military have significantly increased their use of unmanned aerial, surface, and underwater systems for surveillance,
2 A cutter is a Coast Guard vessel that is at least 65 ft. in length and has accommodations for a crew to live aboard.
3 These 200 aircraft include fixed wing airplanes and helicopters.
4 Among these assets are icebreakers, buoy tenders, small patrol boats, harbor tugs, and rescue and lifeboats.
reconnaissance, and other warfare applications that have added new capabilities and are transforming military operational concepts. Although on a less sophisticated and smaller scale, other federal agencies, including the U.S. Customs and Border Protection, Federal Bureau of Investigation, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and U.S. Department of the Interior, are deploying unmanned systems (UxSs) for a range of civilian missions and purposes. Furthermore, a variety of public agencies and private industries are using unmanned technologies in emergency response, infrastructure inspection, nature conservation, undersea exploration, agriculture, and mining. All of these organizations have expanded use of these systems as their capabilities, commercial availability, reliability, and affordability have grown.
In comparison to the other military services, and even some civilian agencies and private industries, the Coast Guard’s adoption of UxSs has been slow and ad hoc, but the opportunity remains to deploy them in a more concerted and strategic manner to add new capabilities and strengthen existing ones with less risk to personnel and traditional assets. It is inconceivable that a Service with many military and civilian missions spanning a vast maritime domain would not make greater use of UxSs, but how, when, and where to deploy them remain open questions.
Even without an operator or crew on board, these systems will require trained and skilled personnel to test, deploy, maintain, direct, monitor, and control them. Also necessary are ongoing research and development (R&D), changes in operational procedures and policies, data management and analytics support, and system maintenance and technology upgrades. Furthermore, there is no guarantee that deployments of these systems will reduce the need for investments in traditional manned vessels and aircraft; indeed, effective use of their capabilities—including many new ones that cannot be provided by manned systems—may necessitate even greater investments in assets. Federal and international regulatory and legal requirements—from those governing the use of airspace and the open seas and therefore may restrict where and how UxSs are deployed, and therefore require considerable Coast Guard attention.
The promise of UxSs for the Coast Guard is alluring and, at the most fundamental level, driven by rapid advances in technology. However, navigating a course to realize this promise will require a great deal of planning, experimentation, preparation, and sound investment.
On December 4, 2018, the Frank LoBiondo Coast Guard Authorization Act of 2018 was enacted. Section 812 of the act requests that the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (the National Academies)
“prepare an assessment of available unmanned, autonomous, or remotely controlled maritime domain awareness technologies for use by the Coast Guard.”6 It asks for a description of the potential limitations of current and emerging UxSs if used by the Coast Guard for its missions; how factors such as affordability, reliability, and versatility should be considered when prioritizing investments in UxSs; and how the Coast Guard can use UxSs to carry out its missions at lower costs, expand the scope and range of its maritime domain awareness, and more efficiently and effectively allocate vessels, aircraft, and personnel. It further calls for the identification of any changes in Coast Guard policies, procedures, and protocols that may be necessary to incorporate UxSs.
In commissioning this study to respond to this legislative request, the Coast Guard and the National Academies negotiated the following more detailed Statement of Task:
An ad hoc committee will identify, examine, and make recommendations on key considerations to guide the Coast Guard’s priorities for developing, testing, and deploying unmanned technologies for maritime domain awareness applications. Specific known or anticipated considerations for these new technologies are:
- acquisition, operations, and maintenance costs;
- service life, reliability, and versatility;
- readiness for testing and/or deployment;
- infrastructure requirements for beyond line of sight control of remotely controlled systems and autonomous system data transmission/collection/analysis/storage;
- ability to aid the Coast Guard in pursuing its missions at lower cost and deploying its vessels, aircraft, equipment, and personnel more efficiently and effectively;
- ability to create new mission related capabilities, such as by increasing persistence of effort and expanding the scope and range of maritime domain awareness; and,
- operational and regulatory challenges when used in domestic and international airspace and waters.
The study committee shall take into account all Coast Guard missions that require maritime domain awareness, but give particular attention to the application of unmanned technologies for asset intensive missions—such as for intelligence gathering, surveillance, and reconnaissance to support law enforcement (e.g., drug-interdiction, fisheries enforcement, and migrant-interdiction), search and rescue, and oil spill response—where
6 See Section 812 of the Frank LoBiondo Coast Guard Authorization Act of 2018 at https://www.congress.gov/bill/115th-congress/senate-bill/140/text.
unmanned technologies can increase the persistence and scope of maritime domain awareness and aid in the efficient and effective use of current manned assets. The committee will consider, and make recommendations as appropriate, on adjustments that may be needed to Coast Guard policies, procedures, and protocols to incorporate unmanned technologies.
STUDY SCOPE AND APPROACH
To conduct the study, the National Academies appointed a committee of 10 experts in Coast Guard operations, naval engineering and architecture, automation and control, system integration, cybersecurity, and field application of automated systems. In reviewing the study charge, as articulated in the Statement of Task, and in considering the legislative origins, the committee made several decisions about the study scope that shaped the study approach.
First, it adopted the broad definition of maritime domain that was provided by the White House in its 2013 “National Maritime Domain Awareness Plan for the National Strategy for Maritime Security.”7 According to this definition, the maritime domain consists of “all areas and things of, on, under, relating to, adjacent to, or bordering on a sea, ocean, or other navigable waterway, including all maritime-related activities, infrastructure, people, cargo, vessels, and other conveyances.” The committee also employed the definition of maritime domain awareness (MDA) espoused by the International Maritime Organization (IMO).8 According to this definition, when applied to the United States, MDA implies an understanding of the global maritime arena that could affect the safety, security, economy, and environment of the country. Together these definitions imply that the Coast Guard’s interest in MDA encompasses all 11 of its missions and must include its operations on the water, underwater, and in the air. Thus, while recognizing that certain Coast Guard missions such as search and rescue, reconnaissance to support law enforcement, and oil spill response, can be asset intensive for maintaining necessary and persistent levels of maritime domain awareness, the committee decided that the potential for aerial, surface, and underwater UxSs must be considered in a broader context across all missions, particularly because the Coast Guard places a heavy emphasis on having assets that can be used efficiently and effectively in a diverse set of missions.
8 International Maritime Organization. 2010. “Amendments to the International Aeronautical and Maritime Search and Rescue (IAMSAR) Manual.” http://www.imo.org/blast/blastDataHelper.asp?data_id=29093&filename=1367.pdf.
Second, given the fast pace of change in UxSs and their applications, the committee was reluctant to provide detailed technical assessments of specific existing or emerging technologies and systems,9 including assessments of their specific benefits or cost and budgetary implications. The decision was made instead to consider these systems in a more generic way based on their key attributes and functions, rather than specific vehicles or data systems that could become obsolete or completely transformed in the near future. The committee also realized that any effort to quantify costs and benefits would have been hindered by limited access to restricted information on Coast Guard operations, assets, and expenses. Moreover, inasmuch as UxS technologies have the potential to be used across multiple Coast Guard mission areas, assignments of the costs and benefits associated with investments in any given system—including calculations of savings in traditional manner assets—would need to take into account numerous shared-use scenarios that would greatly complicate such assignments and limit their decision-making value.
Finally, as discussed above, the successful development and deployment of UxSs is more of an institutional than a technology issue for the Coast Guard. The Coast Guard is a user, not a developer, of technologies. The UxS technologies that the Coast Guard deploys in the near and longer terms will almost certainly be leveraged from the commercial domain and other military services that invest heavily in basic and applied R&D. Committee members observed from their own experiences that many agencies and organizations that successfully leveraged UxSs into their operations were guided by a strategic vision and deliberate plan for making the necessary changes in culture, processes, and investments in resources such as personnel. Therefore, the committee sought to understand how the Coast Guard’s pursuit of UxSs may be affected by its institutional, procedural, cultural, and legal contexts, all of which will bear on its ability to exploit the promise of UxSs.
To obtain a better understanding these contexts, as well as the kinds of unmanned technologies and systems that are being deployed by the Coast Guard and that are candidates for use, the committee scheduled numerous briefings with speakers from industry, academia, and numerous government agencies to gather information on existing and planned uses of different kinds of unmanned technologies, cybersecurity issues, accommodating organizational structures, and system operational and scalability
9 The Association of Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI) created and maintains the Unmanned Systems and Robotics Database, which is the most comprehensive database of all unmanned vehicles and robotic products operating in the air, land, and maritime domains. The database includes more than 4,700 UxS platforms from across the globe. See http://roboticsdatabase.auvsi.org/home?CLK=05da284f-5498-49d9-a548-91169efa9d65&_ga=2.13374910.825991843.1600711525-1811913171.1595438235.
issues. Speakers included Flag Officers and other top officials, senior program managers, and center directors from the Coast Guard, Navy, and other military and civilian agencies listed in the Preface and in Appendix C. They also included technology experts from academia and industry, including the MIT Lincoln Laboratory, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, ThayerMahan Inc., University of Virginia, Apollo Autonomy, Hydroid, and the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International. The information from these briefings was invaluable to the committee in informing its deliberations that led to this report.
The remainder of this report is organized into five chapters as follows:
- Chapter 2 summarizes key aspects about the Coast Guard, including its missions and how they are pursued; the maritime domain under its responsibility; its organizational structure; its joint, interagency, and international operations; and its budget. As such, Chapter 2 provides important context for the remainder of the report.
- Chapter 3 provides context about UxSs innovation by describing the state of practice, what is on the horizon, and what technologies might change current practice. Specifically, the chapter describes vehicle and payload technology—with a 5-year horizon—revolutionary technology, evolutionary technology, the pace of change, platform versus payload approaches, architectural constructs to allow for change, and other issues such as cybersecurity and dependability.
- Chapter 4 explores the current state of unmanned technologies within the Coast Guard and other services and government agencies. The chapter reviews the research and acquisition of UxSs within the Coast Guard and the budget resources allocated to these activities. The chapter then summarizes UxS activities and programs in other government agencies.
- Chapter 5 assesses the UxS capabilities that could deliver the most impact across Coast Guard missions. The chapter describes the importance of a framework for return on investment and proposes a potential approach to such a framework.
- Chapter 6 brings to a close the study findings and presents the committee’s overarching conclusions and the recommendations to move forward in the systematic deployment of UxSs within the Coast Guard. The chapter presents the study committee’s recommendations on strategy, organizational structure, experimentation, and budgetary allocation.