Maritime Patrol Aircraft
The last of eight remaining HU-25 Falcon jets is due to retire from the Coast Guard in the first quarter of 2015. The replacement HC-144A Ocean Sentry medium range surveillance/maritime patrol aircraft (MPA) gives the service a flexible new platform with up to eight hours endurance, removable sensor pallets, and useful cargo capacity. The EADS HC-144 has a Telephonics APS-143(V)3C maritime surveillance and imaging radar integrated with the same EO/IR sensor gimbal and AIS found on board Coast Guard HC-130s. The Lockheed Martin Mission System Pallet (MSP) can send secure and non-secure voice communications over HF, V/UHF, military satellite communications, and Inmarsat radios, and provides sensitive but unclassified data exchange and Secure Internet Protocol Router Network (SIPRNet) access over Inmarsat to units ashore.
The replacement HC-144A Ocean Sentry medium range surveillance/maritime patrol aircraft (MPA) gives the service a flexible new platform with up to eight hours endurance, removable sensor pallets, and useful cargo capacity.
The Coast Guard currently has 15 of the 36 aircraft and 12 of 36 MSPs planned. The MPA program received both a full-rate production decision and DHS Acquisition Program of the Year award in 2013. The service has nevertheless put the Ocean Sentry deliveries on strategic pause in fiscal year 2014 at aircraft 18 and MSP 17 pending hard budget choices. With acquisition dollars scarce, the Coast Guard is considering a transfer of up to 14 extremely low-time Alenia C-27J Spartans from the Air Force. The Italian-built transport aircraft was a runner-up to the Spanish-built HC-144 in the Coast Guard MPA competition, and cast-off Air Force Spartans could save the Coast Guard $500 million to $800 million in acquisition costs. The Coast Guard is still in talks with the Air Force and Forest Service on a C-27J acquisition.
Medium Range Recovery Helicopter
The operational medium range recovery (MRR) helicopter fleet of the Coast Guard has been modernized from HH-60J Jayhawk to MH-60T Jayhawk standards. Thirty-five T-model Jayhawks are now deployed at Coast Guard air stations, and the balance of the 42-aircraft fleet should finish conversion next year during programmed depot maintenance (PDM) at the Aviation and Logistics Center in Elizabeth City, N.C. (The Navy has also transferred five SH-60F Seahawk airframes to the Coast Guard for MH-60T conversion to make up attrition.)
The MH-60T was modernized in discrete segments and achieved initial operational capability on Oct. 1, 2009. DS1 gave the Jayhawk a Common Avionics Architecture System (CAAS), a modern communications/navigation suite, new wiring, and structural upgrades and repairs.
Sikorsky Aircraft originally delivered HH-60Js to the Coast Guard from 1990 to 1996 with analog flight instruments, Navy-style tactical displays, and analog weather radars. Aging airframes, obsolescent avionics, and the airborne use of force (AUF) mission given to the MRR helicopters after 9/11 launched the HH-60J to MH-60T modernization under the Deepwater project initiative. The MH-60T was modernized in discrete segments and achieved initial operational capability on Oct. 1, 2009. DS1 gave the Jayhawk a Common Avionics Architecture System (CAAS), a modern communications/navigation suite, new wiring, and structural upgrades and repairs. (The multi-mission MH- designation denotes AUF armor and gun provisions.)
The Rockwell Collins CAAS shows flight and systems symbology, maps, and sensor imagery on five color cockpit displays. Coast Guard CAAS hardware is nearly identical to that in the current Army Chinooks and special operations Black Hawks, but the Jayhawk cockpit working group teamed with engineers on the Navy White Hawk presidential helicopter to develop Coast Guard display presentations. A head-up display from EFW Inc., shows the Jayhawk pilot basic flight and heading information on AUF aircraft. The Jayhawk crew chief can also access radios, the digital map, and sensor imagery in the cabin. The MH-60T gives Coast Guard crews some text messaging capability and can send automated position reports to other aircraft and ground stations.
MH-60T DS2 included a FLIR Systems Electro-Optical Sensor System (ESS) and a Helicopter Integrated Data Storage System to record ESS video and feeds from hoist and cabin cameras. The original weather radar of the legacy Jayhawk gave way to a digital Honeywell Primus 700A radar with beacon detection and sea clutter reduction functions to provide some search capability. DS3 plans for a dedicated surface-search radar have been deferred, as have DS4 plans for Jayhawk C4ISR (command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance) upgrades.
MH-60Ts now going through PDM will receive further fleet upgrades including the Honeywell Aircraft Diagnostic Vibration Management System and General Electric T700-GE-401C engines upgraded with Enhanced Digital Engine Control Units. The Coast Guard is also moving ahead with a CAAS Block II upgrade installed at air stations to make the MH-60T compatible with satellite-based required navigation performance/area navigation aids in civil airspace.
MH-60Ts now going through PDM will receive further fleet upgrades including the Honeywell Aircraft Diagnostic Vibration Management System and General Electric T700-GE-401C engines upgraded with Enhanced Digital Engine Control Units.
Multi-mission Cutter Helicopter
Today’s 22,000-pound medium range recovery and 9,500-pound short range recovery (SRR) helicopters remain in Coast Guard plans to 2027 or beyond. The service wants MH-60T hardware and software in modernized MH-65E Dolphin multi-mission cutter helicopters (MCHs) to improve fleet capability and enhance readiness. The first Dolphin with a CAAS cockpit should fly in 2014, and the fully modernized MH-65E is due to achieve initial operational capability in 2017.
American Eurocopter delivered the first HH-65A SRR helicopters to the Coast Guard in 1984. Fleet plans now call for 102 Dolphins upgraded in discrete segments at Elizabeth City. DS1, completed in 2007, traded Lycoming/Honeywell LTS101 turboshafts for Turbomeca Arriel 2C2-CG engines with 42 percent more power and digital electronic control. DS2 gave the service seven new MH-65s for the Washington Air Defense Identification Zone. DS3 introduced MH-65C AUF capability with a 7.62 mm machine gun or .50-caliber precision rifle. MH-65Ds now in process get DS4 improvements, including a digital flight director with GPS and inertial navigator, ESS gimbals, and other modern avionics.
DS5 integrates the Dolphin with a ship-handling, securing, and traversing system for cutter operations. DS6, now in the design stage, equips the Coast Guard MH-65Es with digital automatic flight control systems, digital weather radars, and commercial CNS/ATM avionics in four-screen CAAS cockpits. CAAS in the MH-65E starts with the MH-60T operational flight program and builds on the communications/navigation and sensor integration already done for the Jayhawk. The Aviation Logistics Center, located in Elizabeth City, can upgrade 22 MCHs per year.
Manned and Unmanned
The Boeing Insitu ScanEagle mini unmanned aircraft system (UAS) launched by the Bertholf last May was a roll-on/roll-off test system on the second of three planned cutter deployments to define UAS concepts of operation. In August, the Coast Guard deputy commandant for mission support approved acquisition of a small UAS for the NSC. A request for information circulated to industry this fall should lead to a formal shipboard UAS requirement in 2014.
The ScanEagle has demonstrated up to 28 hours endurance, but the 44-pound airplane carries only an 8-pound payload. The Coast Guard Research and Development Center in New London, Conn., plans a demonstration of the Northrop Grumman Fire Scout unmanned helicopter aboard an NSC in FY 2015. The U.S. Navy MQ-8B Fire Scout carries 1,242 pounds of fuel and sensors. The MQ-8C under test can carry 3,200 pounds. The Fire Scout demonstration is meant to help the Coast Guard explore the full range of shipboard UAS options.
The Coast Guard and CBP meanwhile continue their joint UAS program office with shore-based Predator and Guardian unmanned aircraft. The General Atomics MQ-9 Guardian UAS is assigned Coast Guard missions – generally migrant interdiction and counter-drug surveillance – every time it operates over water. The Guardian augments the Raytheon E/O Multi-Spectral Targeting System with a SeaVue XMR multi-mode maritime search radar. Two of the unmanned aircraft typically fly out of Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla., in support of cutters on joint counternarcotics missions in the southeast coastal and Gulf of Mexico border regions.
The Coast Guard has no plans to participate in the Navy MQ-4C Triton program, but the service expects to be one of the many subscribers to the intelligence data and imagery generated by the Broad Area Maritime Surveillance System. The Coast Guard FY 2014 budget does include 1,000 flight hours for the Manned Covert Surveillance Aircraft. The quiet Sikorsky-Schweizer RU-38 provides up to 10 hours endurance and has long been evaluated by the Coast Guard, flying out of Coast Guard Air Station Miami.
Hard choices about Coast Guard modernization are still to be made, based on a servicewide portfolio review. The service’s aviation assets are nevertheless largely state of the art and increasingly integrated into a maritime defense in depth.
This article first appeared in the Coast Guard Outlook 2014 Edition.