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US Coast Guard Conducts Tests of Unmanned Surface Vehicles

USCG tests unmanned surface vehicles
U.S. Coast Guard photos courtesy of the Coast Guard Research and Development Center

By The Maritime Executive 11-27-2020 02:30:22

The US Coast Guard recently conducted a series of tests to evaluate the performance and potential applications of unmanned surface vehicles (USVs). The tests, which took place over a 30-day demonstration period, were conducted in the waters off Oahu, Hawaii.

According to the US Coast Guard, the focus of the test was to explore how current and emerging technologies might be used to enhance maritime domain awareness in remote regions. The test explored ways USVs equipped with assorted sensor capabilities might support the Coast Guard’s missions ranging from search and rescue to law enforcement.

“It’s clear that autonomous technology is a growing industry, and has great potential to enhance Coast Guard operations,” said Cmdr. Blair Sweigart, the demonstration’s director from the Coast Guard Research and Development Center. “Combined with artificial intelligence algorithms, unmanned systems could be a game changer.”

During the test, the Coast Guard examined USVs from Saildrone and Spatial Integrated Systems to understand their capabilities and effectiveness. The USVs participated in a variety of operational simulations to detect and alert the Coast Guard to both legitimate and nefarious behavior.

The Coast Guard’s Strategic Plan 2018-2022, includes a goal to “evaluate emerging technologies, such as unmanned platforms, artificial intelligence, machine learning, network protocols, information storage, and human-machine collaboration for possible use in mission execution.” The tests conducted off Hawaii were part of that mission, allowing the Coast Guard to identify how USVs could be used to support search and rescue operations, improve marine environmental response, enhance port security, aid in the fight against illegal maritime smuggling, and identify vessels engaged in illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing.

“The demonstration helped us understand what these technologies currently are, and are not, capable of,” said Sweigart. “These vessels proved to be very effective across a variety of mission areas. The results of this study will help shape how the Coast Guard, and our partners, incorporate USVs into our future operations.”

With their long endurance, the Coast Guard believes that USVs can provide persistent domain awareness in remote regions of the U.S. Exclusive Economic Zone. By conducting the demonstrations off Hawaii, the teams gained a firsthand understanding of how these assets could help protect the islands and the critical resources and habitats throughout Oceania.