It was reported yesterday that the US Coast Guard is looking for a number of long-range reconnaissance unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV's) for coastal patrol.
The US Coast Guard issued a request for demonstrations of long-range, ultra-endurance unmanned aerial vehicles to conduct intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance missions in US coastal transit zones that are highly trafficked by illegal drug and migrant smugglers.
The requested drone would be land-based, must have the ability to fly for more than 24h and a service ceiling of 15,000ft above sea level, according to the Department of Homeland Security’s RFP. The UAV’s sensor payload must be able to discern activity associated with drug and migrant smuggling aboard anchored and moving maritime targets.
. . .
... the US Coast Guard is looking for an aircraft with a patrol airspeed of at least 50kt (93km/h). It must also include maritime payloads such as an electro-optical and infrared full motion video system, a maritime surveillance radar, a radio frequency and direction finding sensor, and a tactical communications radio and data link.
There's more at the link.
Interestingly, the US Air Force retired its MQ-1 Predator UAV's earlier this year, putting about 150 of them into storage pending disposal.
First Lt. Annabel Monroe, a spokeswoman for Air Combat Command, said that the Air Force is still figuring out what it will do with its retiring Predator fleet. Some could be transferred to Air Force museums, and the Air Force is exploring the possibility of transferring some to the Navy.
But the Air Force won’t sell them to private organizations, Monroe said, and does not expect to sell or give them to allied nations through the Excess Defense Article Program for Security Cooperation.
Again, more at the link.
The Predator's specifications appear to meet or exceed every one of the Coast Guard's requirements. According to the USAF, they include:
Payload: 450 pounds (204 kilograms)
Speed: cruise speed around 84 mph (70 knots), up to 135 mph
Range: 770 miles (675 nautical miles)
Ceiling: 25,000 feet (7,620 meters)
I'm willing to bet the official range figure cited above is conservative. Predators have demonstrated an endurance of 24 hours during operations, although obviously that didn't involve prolonged high-speed transits or carrying a heavy weapon load (neither of which is a USCG requirement). They cost $20 million apiece - and they're just sitting there, waiting for a new home or for disposal. The Coast Guard could, effectively, get as many as it needs for free, needing only to pay for their sensor packages to be upgraded to something more suitable for the USCG's mission. (I wonder if they could be "plumbed" to carry auxiliary fuel tanks on their weapons stations? That would extend their range even further.)
I presume the USCG and the USAF are already talking to each other. If they aren't, why not? The USCG has already taken over most of the C-27 Spartan transports the USAF discarded some years ago. Looks like they could once again augment their fleet courtesy of the USAF.