The Coast Guard is sponsoring multiple initiatives to assess the applicability of unmanned systems (UxSs) to introduce their capabilities into the fleet and force structure. Many of these efforts have been highlighted in this report. According to Coast Guard briefings, the Service has considered the return on UxS investments primarily by examining its ability to carry out missions more effectively, enable more efficient use of manned assets, and expand the scope of maritime domain awareness. However, to date the Coast Guard’s applications of UxSs have been characterized by limited funding spread over several years and the absence of a formal means, or a pacing mechanism, to proactively investigate and integrate promising systems. In the meantime, technological change and advancements in UxSs have accelerated, driven by commercial and military demands and interests.
A major realignment of the Coast Guard’s UxS approach is warranted. After reviewing the Coast Guard’s many important, complex, varied, and demanding missions; observing that its fleet and operational forces are being increasingly taxed; finding that unmanned systems are being used today with high utility across the public and private sectors; and knowing that the technologies that enable and underpin these systems are advancing rapidly, the committee is struck by the magnitude and breadth of opportunity that lies ahead for the Coast Guard to pursue UxS in its multiple operational domains and across its many missions. As other military services and U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) operational units integrate UxS into their own force structures, the Coast Guard will be impelled to do the same, as it engages in joint and combined operations and missions with these partners.
The evidence in this report points to both compelling reasons and burgeoning opportunities for the Coast Guard to proceed more aggressively, albeit strategically and deliberately, in leveraging UxS. Indeed, the committee concludes that to remain responsive and fully relevant to its many missions, it is imperative that the Coast Guard take a more strategic and accelerated approach to exploit the capabilities of existing and future unmanned systems.
The Coast Guard has shown interest in exploiting UxS for more missions. That interest, however, is not matched by a funding commitment, including critical funding for research and development (R&D). The Coast Guard’s R&D spending is modest when compared to R&D spending by other military and DHS operational agencies, and negligible in the context of the UxS imperative. The committee concludes that the Coast Guard’s small current budget for UxS R&D and incremental applications is not sufficient to meet the UxS imperative and therefore will need augmentation by Congress and DHS to enable more and larger-scale investigations and investments.
How best to proceed in aligning plans, operations, budgets, and policies to prompt and enable the Coast Guard to embrace and capitalize on UxSs is a question that faces the its leadership, DHS, and Congress. Similar to the experiences of other military services, DHS operational units, and several other federal agencies, the Coast Guard has reached a point where purposeful and strategic steps are needed to exploit UxS more effectively and efficiently. Informed by these experiences, the committee recommends the following five steps.
ISSUE A HIGH-LEVEL UxS STRATEGY
The Coast Guard’s Strategic Plan for 2018–2022 is intended to provide a “framework for a Ready, Relevant, and Responsive Coast Guard to address America’s most complex maritime challenges across the full spectrum of maritime operations.”1 The plan explicitly points to the opportunities, complexities, and challenges of a maritime domain that is being transformed by advanced technologies, including UxS, by observing that
rapid technological advancements are changing the character of maritime operations. The accelerating pace of innovation manifests itself through increasingly complex vessels, high traffic volumes, and greater demands on the Marine Transportation System (MTS). Advanced technologies, such as
1 U.S. Coast Guard. 2018. Coast Guard Strategic Plan 2018–2022. Page 2. https://www.uscg.mil/Portals/0/seniorleadership/alwaysready/USCG_Strategic%20Plan__LoResReaderSpreads_ 20181115_vFinal.pdf?ver=2018-11-14-150015-323.
autonomous and robotic systems and new propulsion methods usher in an era of new regulatory, legal, and operational challenges. While these technologies increase the complexity of our operating environment, they also present great opportunities for improved safety and efficiency. Our ability to set and enforce effective standards that advance maritime safety and environmental stewardship must keep pace with rapid technology application in the afloat, ashore, and cyber elements of the MTS.2
The plan recognizes the tremendous promise of advanced technologies to transform the maritime domain, but it also highlights the significant regulatory, policy, and operational challenges and complexities that accompany that promise. Furthermore, it says little about how these same advancements can transform the Coast Guard itself and present similar technical, regulatory, policy, and operational challenges.3 Indeed, this report documents how the Coast Guard has made progress in investigating and introducing UxSs, but finds no evidence of these efforts being guided by a strategic vision of a future Coast Guard that is transformed by UxSs or a set of strategic goals and objectives for pursuing that transformation.
It is time, in the committee’s view, for the Coast Guard leadership to offer that future vision, articulate strategies and objectives aimed at achieving it, and establish the appropriate organizational structures and lines of authority to deliver and integrate UxSs across the force structure. Other military services, including the Navy, and other federal agencies, most recently the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), have taken this important step in recognition that ad hoc and piecemeal efforts to investigate and introduce UxSs risk fragmented and unrealized benefits. Developed and issued by top leadership, their plans reveal the importance of a high-level commitment to UxSs because of the need for deliberate and coordinated implementation and support efforts across the organization, from headquarters to the field. The Coast Guard could benefit by leveraging the work by other military services and agencies that have established UxS programs.
To ensure this commitment and coordination, the Commandant should issue a high-level UxS strategy that articulates a compelling rationale for
2 U.S. Coast Guard. 2018. Coast Guard Strategic Plan 2018–2022. Page 4. https://www.uscg.mil/Portals/0/seniorleadership/alwaysready/USCG_Strategic%20Plan__LoResReaderSpreads_ 20181115_vFinal.pdf?ver=2018-11-14-150015-323.
3 There are only two specific references to unmanned systems in the 2018–2022 Strategic Plan. Section 1.2.2 calls for investments in shore- and cutter-based unmanned aerial systems and Section 1.2.4 calls for the evaluation of emerging technologies, such as unmanned platforms, data analytics, block chain encryption, artificial intelligence, machine learning, network protocols, information storage, and human–machine collaboration for possible use in mission execution.
UxS, sets forth agency-critical goals these systems should further, and outlines the Coast Guard’s approach for achieving them.
There is ample precedent for strategic planning in the Coast Guard, and clear evidence that strategies issued at the highest level command Service-wide attention and action. As discussed in Chapter 4, the Commandant has issued several strategic documents to call attention to critical needs and interests. Some of these documents provide concise statements of strategic goals and intentions, while others offer more details on the specific strategies and objectives to be pursued. In either form, the documents are intended to convey urgency to senior leadership and to galvanize the need for change across the Service—from shifting budget priorities and adjusting acquisition policies to making investments in supportive R&D and personnel recruitment and training.
DESIGNATE A SENIOR UxS CHAMPION
While the Coast Guard is small when compared to the Navy and other military services, it is nevertheless a large organization with a complex—and in places stove-piped—bureaucratic structure. Decisions and their execution can involve multiple command, operational, and mission support units. Rules, policies, procedures, and business practices—which are sometimes rigid and ingrained—must be followed for logistics, financial management, human resources, acquisitions, and information technology. Although reforms during the past decade have led to many improvements in organizational agility and efficiency,4 the Coast Guard, like many large organizations, cannot assume that its day-to-day decision making, operational, and administrative processes will suffice when pursuing bold new initiatives that require innovation and adaptability.
A strategic commitment to UxSs from the Office of the Commandant can go a long way to spurring the organizational responsiveness required to carry it out. However, the scope and scale of the responsiveness, should not be underestimated. For example, the Coast Guard has multiple acquisition authorities and mechanisms that can be applied to UxS investments, but the most streamlined and adaptable ones will be needed to keep pace with advancements in technological capabilities. Some longstanding design, development, and evaluation standards that were instituted to ensure the safety of manned systems will need to be culled or eliminated, and risk-appropriate standards will need to be adopted in their place to exploit the capabilities of UxS and their integration with operational forces. New policy guidance, interpretations, and applications will be required to maximize
the beneficial use of these systems. For example, legal and policy assessments will be required to ensure that existing laws, regulations, and Coast Guard authorities will allow the safe and legally compliant uses of UxSs across a range of envisaged, and sometimes novel, applications.
As discussed in Chapter 4, in 2015 the Secretary of the Navy, in a memo titled “Treat Unmanned as Unmanned,” created the position of Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Unmanned Systems (DASN (UxS)), whose core responsibility would be to accelerate the development and fielding of UxSs through coordinated and efficient efforts across the U.S. Department of the Navy. In essence, the DASN (UxS) was charged with being a powerful advocate for UxSs across the Navy and Marine Corps, as well as external interests. Although both the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) and the U.S. Department of the Navy had issued multiple UxS strategic plans and action-oriented “roadmaps” over the years, the decision by Navy leadership to create this new office in the Secretariat signaled the importance of high-level and sustained prompting, persuasion, facilitation, and coordination to further these strategies and the many interdependent steps needed to execute them in a vast and complex organization with many competing demands and priorities.
While the intra- and inter-organizational challenges the Coast Guard faces in furthering a UxS strategy differ in magnitude from those faced by the much larger Navy, they are comparable in nature and seem to warrant comparable solutions. Thus, learning from the experience of the Navy, the Commandant should designate a top Coast Guard official, at the Flag Officer or Senior Executive Service levels, to advocate for and advance the Commandant’s UxS strategy. This top official should be responsible for identifying, promoting, pushing for, coordinating, and facilitating the changes that will be needed across the board to further the UxS strategy, including ensuring
- Innovative uses of all available and relevant acquisition authorities, including fast-track procurement, partnering, and contract services.
- Statutory and regulatory assessments of existing Coast Guard authorities to ensure that planned operations and uses of UxSs will be legally compliant and to identify gaps in authorities that may need to be filled to enable some beneficial envisaged uses.
- Introduction and promotion of a desirable career path or component that specializes in UxSs, including the requisite education and training programs to support UxS operations across mission areas.
- Co-development with mission area partners of cybersecurity policies for system-of-systems configurations that ensure that cybersecurity risk assessments are routinely conducted to guarantee the secured use of unmanned technologies and to safeguard the Coast Guard’s critical data and systems.
The official serving in this capacity would have a large remit, but also a high-level mandate and prominent platform from which to pursue it. Although this remit would involve a great deal of coordination and facilitation, as opposed to program execution and management, it would need to be pursued with the purpose and resolve of committing the entire multi-mission Coast Guard enterprise to realizing the Commandant’s strategic vision for UxS.
STAND UP A UxS PROGRAM OFFICE
As noted above, the Coast Guard has made a series of organizational realignments over the past decade to improve operational effectiveness and to deliver mission support services more efficiently. Critical to this effort has been the establishment of new headquarters organizations, including a Deputy Commandant for Operations, Deputy Commandant for Mission Support, and Force Readiness Command (FORCECOM).5 The Deputy Commandant for Operations was created to strategically manage the Coast Guard’s mission programs—consolidating under a single umbrella numerous functions that had been dispersed across the organization such as managing intelligence activities, coordinating interaction with external stakeholders, and identifying new and emerging issues that threaten operations. The Deputy Commandant for Mission Support was created to consolidate and manage support policy, strategy, planning, and resourcing to meet mission needs for human resources, engineering and logistics, information systems, and acquisitions. FORCECOM was created to ensure that each mission has the necessary equipment and personnel skills to ensure operational readiness to support mission delivery and business processes. The Coast Guard established these offices in recognition of the importance of centralizing responsibility for furthering interests and initiatives that would otherwise languish because of a lack of direct ownership and singularity of focus.
Although the Coast Guard does not have an office dedicated to UxSs—or even a clearinghouse-like unit responsible for inventorying and tracking the results of existing UxS activities—other federal agencies have been moving in this direction. In its recently released UxS Strategic Plan, NOAA stated its intention to create a centralized office for UxSs to enable a more effective transition of the systems into operational platforms across its line agencies. Housed in the Office of Marine and Aviation Operations, NOAA’s new UxS Operations Program Office is charged with coordinating and
5 U.S. Government Accountability Office. 2020. “COAST GUARD: Actions Needed to Evaluate the Effectiveness of Organizational Changes and Determine Workforce Needs.” https://www.gao.gov/assets/710/704873.pdf.
providing support for UxS activities, including training, cybersecurity, and acquisition, as well as serving as a trusted source of UxS expertise across the agency. The new office will also help the agency to meet the mandates of the Commercial Engagement Through Ocean Technology Act of 2018, which requires NOAA to coordinate research, assessment, and acquisition of UxS with the Navy, other federal agencies, industry, and academia.
Given the many changes in Coast Guard priorities, practices, and procedures that will be required to exploit UxSs more fully—from systems acquisition to personnel hiring and training—no single office or subunit could be expected to initiate and implement them all. Such an office, in the committee’s view, would require an unrealistic number of new and reassigned authorities and potentially hinder the Coast Guard’s mainstreaming of UxS. At the other extreme, however, a unit charged with simply tracking and monitoring Coast Guard UxS activities would be too passive for furthering this important strategic initiative. The creation of a UxS program office whose main functions are to coordinate and leverages will provide more value than one that authorizes and directs, and should have the advantage of not requiring complicated and controversial internal reorganizations.
Much like NOAA’s nascent UxS Operational Office, a dedicated Coast Guard UxS program office could play a leadership and coordinating role in sustaining and expanding the use of UxS capabilities across Coast Guard operational forces. More importantly, a UxS program office would be charged with fostering an organizational environment—administratively, culturally, and operationally—in which the Coast Guard is not only ready, willing, and able to leverage UxS technologies, but also increasingly enterprising and opportunistic in exploiting their capabilities. Underscoring the importance of such an environment for the future Coast Guard, the Commandant should establish a UxS program office that will work with the top official charged with advancing the Services’s UxS strategy to plan out, coordinate, assess, and promote UxS activities across the Service and to leverage relevant activities and capabilities from outside the Service.
In keeping with its role as both facilitator and champion of UxSs, the program office’s responsibilities and functions should include the following:
- Creating an actionable roadmap (i.e., tactical plan) that identifies desired outcomes from UxS and major initiatives, indicators (including annual performance metrics), and milestones needed to bring about these outcomess.
- Assessing activities across the Coast Guard mission areas to identify capability needs and opportunities for using UxSs.
- Developing processes and practices to facilitate UxS initiatives, where warranted and practical, to enable rapid nomination, evaluation, and transition of UxSs systems into Coast Guard operations.
- Monitoring UxS capabilities development and technology availability in other military services, federal agencies, national laboratories, and the commercial sector, and identifying affordable leveraging opportunities that align with Coast Guard mission needs.
- Creating economies-of-scale opportunities by coordinating and partnering with other military services, federal agencies, private companies, and academia to further the initiatives and outcomes defined in the roadmap, including through joint efforts to develop, test, acquire, and utilize UxSs.
- Supporting UxS acquisition decisions by considering not only cost, schedule, and performance evidence, but also technical readiness, prospects for incremental capabilities, complexity of design, and system resilience to failures (including those due to cyberattacks).
To fulfill these responsibilities, the program office will need to work with the top official charged with advocating for UxS and to maintain strong ties to the Coast Guard’s operational leadership and field units, that is, the principal users of UxSs. Because close ties with mission support units will also be vital, it would be advantageous for the program office should be situated organizationally so that its reach is broad. Prominence in the organization chart would also be appropriate for a strategic priority.
An early initiative of the program office should be to develop a “roadmap” that translates the high-level UxS strategic goals and objectives into an actionable plan to accomplish them, which should specify tasks needing priority attention, time frames for completion, and performance milestones and measures. A roadmap “connects the dots” by showing how various actions across the Service fit together to further the UxS strategic goals and objectives. For example, the roadmap could show how investments in, and investigations of, a specific UxSs are expected to inform follow-on decisions about UxS deployments. The roadmap should also lay out steps to overcome barriers to obtaining or using a UxS, such as legal or acquisition policy constraints. Given the importance of integrating UxSs with manned systems and with other UxSs into a system of systems, the roadmap should identify the activities needed to facilitate integration and transition of technology across the Service. As such, the roadmap should also incorporate steps for developing workforce training on UxS and for leveraging other agencies work in this field.
Roadmap development requires an understanding of the Coast Guard’s starting point with UxSs. The inventory of recent, ongoing, and planned UxS programs and activities presented in Chapter 4 makes clear that the Coast Guard is not a UxS novice, but its efforts are largely ad hoc and fragmented—lacking a common evaluation framework, a means to disseminate
results and experiences across the Service, and definitive plans for follow-on activities to build on promising results. The UxS program office should not only be responsible for filling these voids, but also function as a “one-stop” place for operational and mission support units to obtain information about the current status and planning of UxSs in the Coast Guard. These interactions should be bi-directional, because the program office should regularly consult with operational units to identify and understand their desired capabilities, consider how those capabilities correspond with those desired by other operational units, and explore ways in which UxSs could satisfy them.
The program office should be keenly aware that the Coast Guard, as a “fast follower,” must leverage technologies that are being developed and introduced elsewhere. The program office must therefore have a vigorous outward-facing presence, not simply a liaison-like interface. In this regard, the program office should actively monitor UxS developments from outside the Coast Guard, including elsewhere in DHS, the Navy and other military services, other federal agencies, national laboratories, the private sector, and academia. As the Coast Guard’s primary connection to potential external partners, the UxS program office would broker such partnerships by canvassing interest among Coast Guard operational units and coordinating the steps needed to pursue the promising partnership opportunities. In this regard, the UxS program office should look for economies-of-scale opportunities to jointly develop, test, acquire, and utilize UxSs.
To facilitate these external partnerships and the Coast Guard’s own internal deployments of UxSs, the program office should work on an ongoing basis with mission support units responsible for functions such as acquisitions, legal compliance, personnel hiring and training, and information technology to ensure that their practices, processes, and investments are increasingly suited to the expeditious introduction and use of UxS technologies. In some cases—as discussed in Chapter 3—the rapid introduction of UxS may be accomplished through the creative or innovative use of existing legal, regulatory, and policy frameworks, but in some cases, they may not. If the latter, the program office should be prepared to work with the relevant Coast Guard authorities to pursue changes to these frameworks inasmuch as such additional effort is warranted by the benefits expected and likely to prove fruitful.
As UxS capabilities grow and are embraced by the Coast Guard, so too will the complexities of ensuring that UxSs are integrated with manned systems and with one another across the air, surface, and multiple domains. At the level of the technologies being deployed, integration may require standards for interoperability, user interfaces, communications, sensor interfaces, and the like. Integration will also need to extend to launch and recovery means, operator consoles, logistics for fuels and spare parts,
and communications links and command and control. When operating with mission partners, system-of-systems configurations will increase integration needs and challenges.
Accordingly, the Coast Guard needs a systems engineering capacity devoted to UxSs. Although this capacity need not reside in the UxS program office, the office should be responsible for ensuring that it exists and is sustained and accessible. Advances in automation-related technology to exploit UxS opportunities require a knowledge base of workflow design, the technical details of system design and implementation of applications, and the costs and lead times associated with project implementations. Furthermore, this knowledge base must include understanding of the policy issues and corresponding technical issues that stem from the collection, storage, dissemination, and security of information gathered and analyzed by the UxSs. Such a knowledge base requires time and experience to develop. Therefore, the Coast Guard should commence efforts to build a systems engineering capacity as soon as possible to ensure successful UxS investments and implementations.
EXPAND AND NORMALIZE UxS EXPERIMENTATION
As discussed in Chapter 4, the Navy created two operational units dedicated to UxS experimentation, one focused on unmanned underwater vehicles (UUVs) and one on unmanned surface vessels (USVs). This decision was intended to facilitate transition of the technology into the fleet through a “test and learn” process, whereby field units employ prototypes to learn how system designs should be adapted before investing in a system at scale. Indeed, the importance of involving operators to understand how UxS technologies can be utilized was an oft-repeated theme in the agency presentations. Encouraging experimentation with low-cost systems was seen as critical for not only identifying beneficial uses, but also nurturing a technology-curious and -proficient workforce.
Some of the experimental strategies employed by the Navy and others are as follows:
- Involve operators in as many experimental situations as feasible and affordable, such as in exercises, simulations, demonstrations, and tests and evaluations;
- Employ technologies that are commercially available and inexpensive to accelerate the acquisition process and more freely explore possible applications without excessive worry about system damage or losses; and
- Test UxSs owned by partners before committing to investment.
The military services have long embraced experimentation as foundational to force development. The importance of experimentation for the Navy has been known for some time. In particular, the Warfare Centers of the Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA) and Naval Air Systems Command have been developing UxS for years. In briefings, NAVSEA leadership explained that it either builds prototypes for the field to test or it provides commercially available technology to the field to test.6 The Navy leverages its substantial infrastructure for testing and experimentation including simulation, war games, and test ranges. As an example, the objective of the Advanced Naval Technology Exercises program is to expose UxSs to a larger operational community to assess readiness levels, possible applications, and even manpower implications.
Although at a much smaller scale, experimental uses of UxSs have occurred at agencies as diverse at the U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI), NOAA, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). The DOI Strategy document for UAS acknowledges the importance of operational tests to determine the readiness of UASs to expand applications and the use of UAS equipment from partners as a “try before you buy” approach.7 Indeed, DOI developed a set of easy-to-follow processes to facilitate investigations of potential candidates for UAS applications, from determining requirements to executing the program. After experimenting with small UAVs for more than a decade, the FBI identified more than 30 applications for the technology, even though initially expecting only a handful of uses. Likewise, in its Unmanned Systems Strategy, NOAA describes its intention to expand the use of UxSs through experiments across its line agencies.8 NOAA emphasizes the importance of building communities-of-practice for UxSs and leveraging partnership opportunities with the Navy, Coast Guard, and other agencies as a means to test UxSs readiness for integration into operations.9
As documented in Chapter 4, the Coast Guard is experimenting with UxSs, with the notable example the ScanEagle sUAS as well as about a dozen other projects and partnerships. In the committee’s view such experimentation is vital to expanding and transitioning UxSs across the Coast
6 Briefing and committee discussion with Mr. McCormack, Executive Director for Naval Surface Warfare Center and Naval Undersea Warfare Center, in February 2020.
7 U.S. Department of the Interior. 2015. Department of the Interior Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) Integration Strategy (2015–2020). https://www.doi.gov/sites/doi.gov/files/uploads/DOI_UAS_Integration_Strategy_2015-2020.pdf.
8 NOAA. 2020. NOAA Unmanned Systems Strategy. https://nrc.noaa.gov/LinkClick.aspx?fileticket=0tHu8Kl8DBs%3D&tabid=93&portalid=0.
9 NOAA. “NOAA, U.S. Navy will increase nation’s unmanned maritime systems operations.” August 4, 2020. https://www.noaa.gov/media-release/noaa-us-navy-will-increase-nations-unmanned-maritime-systems-operations.
Guard and is compatible with the Coast Guard’s “can do” culture and spirit of innovation to fulfill diverse and demanding mission in the face of resource constraints. To build on and reinforce its naturally innovative culture, the Coast Guard should expand and normalize efforts to ensure ample and systematic operations-related experimentation with low-cost UxSs, including potentially designating field units specifically for experimentation and rapid transitioning of unmanned systems to operations.
With its diverse set of missions, the Coast Guard is well positioned to experiment with a range of capable and inexpensive technologies that are becoming increasingly available commercially. Moreover, the Coast Guard should encourage such experimentation both organically and through more deliberate and planned efforts. Expanding activities in UxSs requires that the Coast Guard increase investigations of these systems to determine which technologies are best suited and more effective for its missions. This requires a systematic approach to making decisions about UxSs investments systems that includes the use of experimentation, prototypes, and capability demonstrations. For example, investigations of prototypes should test their functionality with mature UxS technologies to understand their potential contribution to the mission, and if beneficial, to determine the changes needed to transition the prototype to a fielded capability. In short, such investigations should be designed so that their results can inform decisions about what capabilities to incorporate in the force structure.
The committee’s use of “systematic” refers to robust experimentation campaigns that are designed to test concepts over a range of operational scenarios and with applications directed at near-, mid-, and long-term objectives. A body of literature exists on the use of such experimental methods, including the DOD Prototyping Guidebook,10DOD Experimentation Guidebook,11The Role of Experimentation in Building Future Naval Forces,12 and The Role of Experimentation Campaigns in the Air Force Innovation Life Cycle.13 Recognizing the important role that operational evaluation plays in moving systems into field use, the DHS Science & Technology (S&T) Directorate has likewise established processes for understanding UxS commercial readiness levels in operational settings, such
10 U.S. Department of Defense. 2018. Department of Defense Prototyping Guidebook. https://www.afwerx.af.mil/resources/DoD-Prototyping-Guidebook.pdf.
11 U.S. Department of Defense 2019. Department of Defense Experimentation Guidebook. https://www.dau.edu/tools/Lists/DAUTools/Attachments/381/DoD%20Experimentation%20Guidebook,%20v1.0.pdf.
as through the use capability demonstrations. The Coast Guard can tap this in-house expertise to design and carry out its own UxS experiments, and the UxS program office could play an important role in providing these connections with partner agencies and experimental guides and tools.
Experimentation with low-cost UxS will not only lead to the identification of beneficial uses, but also nurture a technology curious and proficient workforce across the ranks. In the committee’s view, the Coast Guard should aim to spur interest in, and create opportunities for, experimentation across operational units with an aggressiveness that is at least commensurate with the general pace of development and proliferation of UxSs technologies.
GET A FIX ON UxS FUNDING NEEDS
The Coast Guard’s application of UxS technologies to date appear to be paying off and will likely continue to yield incremental benefits even if pursued in a limited and highly targeted manner as the technologies leveraged from the commercial sector and spun off from Navy and other military investments become more reliable, capable, and affordable. In foregoing the fuller range of potential benefits, however, the Coast Guard risks the foreclosing of potential opportunities to capitalize on UxS capabilities as it makes investments in long-lived assets and the recruitment, training, and deployment of personnel with only nominal or partial regard for the potentially transformative technological developments on the horizon.
The committee’s recommendations are intended to expand and accelerate Coast Guard investigation and implementation of UxSs that can lead to new concepts of operation. However, the recommendations assume intent; that is, they are offered with the premise that the Coast Guard wants to capitalize on the growing and expanding capabilities of UxSs—and indeed that the Coast Guard concurs with the committee’s conclusion about the imperative of doing so if the Service is to remain responsive and fully relevant to its many missions. The interest expressed by Coast Guard leadership in committee briefings and the Service’s apparent satisfaction with its experimental and limited uses of UxS technologies to date suggest this assumption is well founded. Acting on these recommendations, however, will require ample and sustained funding, and a commitment to continually increasing funding over time.
While the committee is not in a position to estimate and advise on how much funding will be required, a detailed assessment of investment needs is not required to conclude that a $5 million per year R&D program and budget line items of a few million dollars more per year for acquisitions and deployment of off-the-shelf technologies is clearly insufficient. As it identifies UxS capabilities for incorporation into the fleet and force
structure, the Coast Guard will need to invest in R&D, acquisitions, field experimentation, strategic planning, systems integration, evaluation, cybersecurity, legal analyses, personnel recruitment and training, and many other field and mission support functions and requirements. The sooner the Coast Guard estimates the magnitude of required investments, the sooner it can press for additional resources to meet them. Without dedicated funding for UxSs, the Coast Guard is almost certain to lose out on many of these benefits.
Thus, to get a fix on the magnitude of investments that will be required, the Commandant should commission an internal study of the multi-year spending that will be required for research, assets, integration, personnel, and the like that will enable full and sustained implementation of a UxS strategy. Given the Coast Guard’s need to be opportunistic and enterprising in leveraging other organizations’ technologies, the study should consider the likely advances in UxS capabilities and affordability, as well strategic partnerships with other services and federal agencies, to enable cost-saving economies of scale. The study should also recognize that investment in UxS may not be accompanied by opportunities to significantly reduce spending on manned assets and operations, but will nevertheless be vital to supporting efficient and capable hybrid operations to fulfill the Coast Guard’s critical missions. The Coast Guard has a range of spending needs and priorities that it must balance with investments in UxS. The recommended study should help the Coast Guard make more informed decisions to maintain that balance.
The recommendations in this report are directed to the Coast Guard and its leadership. The committee is fully aware, of course, that the request for this study originated in legislation and that Congress has a keen interest in the Coast Guard’s ability to effectively and efficiently perform its many missions critical to the nation. DHS has the same interest. Funding needs for UxSs, as established in the recommended Coast Guard study, will unlikely be met through reallocations of traditional Coast Guard appropriations and budget items. Although it is incumbent on the Coast Guard to build a compelling case for substantial additional funding, the committee believes its findings and recommendations warrant the attention of Congress and DHS, whose support will be vital to the advent of a future Coast Guard that fully embraces and delivers on the promise of UxSs.