The Unmanned Aerial Surveillance aircraft Scan Eagle is recovered on the Coast Guard Cutter Stratton during a demonstration off the Pacific Coast on Aug. 13, 2012. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Luke Clayton)

Acquisitions Chief: Coast Guard R&D Keeping on Top of ‘Ever-Increasing Level of Automation,’ AI

The Coast Guard’s assistant commandant for acquisitions and chief acquisition officer assured Congress on Tuesday that research and development, particularly on autonomous systems, was briskly moving forward with the aid of key partnerships.

Rear Adm. Michael Haycock told the House Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on the Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation that the USCG is “making real progress towards delivering the assets and the capabilities that our men and women in the field need to execute the mission for the American people.”

The Coast Guard’s Office of Research, Development, Test and Evaluation, he said, is “constantly looking at ways to best leverage partnerships with DHS and DOD research entities, national laboratories, academia, and industry to best support the Coast Guard’s needs.”

“One example of leveraging partnerships is our research and development center’s effort with DHS Science and Technology Directorate to form the DHS/Coast Guard Science and Technology Innovation Center, also known as the STIC. This joint Coast Guard and DHS team is focused on rapidly transitioning innovative technologies into the hands of our operational community. We’re also working with DHS Centers of Excellence on projects related to maritime cybersecurity, and in the Arctic, as well,” Haycock testified.

“We’re also at the table with the Defense Advanced Research Project Agency, also known as DARPA, to look at counter-UAS systems. We conducted in-situ burnings testing at the Joint Maritime Test Facility in Mobile, Alabama, through partnership with entities such as the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement, and the Naval Research Laboratory. We also collaborate with industry through numerous cooperative research and development agreements, also known CRADAs. These agreements are mutually beneficial in providing industry partners with access to real-world requirements while keeping the Coast Guard abreast of the latest developments in technology.”

Haycock noted formalized cooperative R&D agreements with private industry, such as Mercury Marine, Lockheed Martin, Conoco Philips, and other large firms, and added that “we’re looking at a number of ways to increase the number of partnerships with smaller, innovative technology companies as well.”

During “one of our busiest years to date” as Hurricane Harvey plowed into the Gulf Coast last season, he said, the RDT&E program used an “innovative crowd-sourcing platform to collect real time lessons learned from responders on scene.”

“The Research and Development Center in New London, Connecticut, immediately sprung into action and began prototyping small, affordable, off-the-shelf tracking devices that can provide our operation commanders with options for greater situational awareness, even under the most challenging of conditions. The program is nimble and it’s able to respond quickly,” he said.

Haycock stressed that with “ever-increasing level of automation within the maritime transportation system, we’re working to stay ahead on cybersecurity challenges and threats,” including improving communications capability and domain awareness in the Arctic, “and we are collectively excited about the potential improved mission effectiveness made possible by machine learning and artificial intelligence in augmented reality and other emergent technologies.”

The program is now “looking at potential Coast Guard uses for autonomous and semi-autonomous systems from the sea floor to space, as directed by Congress.”

As the USCG has worked closely with DHS and Customs and Border Patrol to explore and expand unmanned aviation systems use, Haycock emphasized last week’s request for proposals as a big step to “actually get that demonstration in place, to see how that technology could be used in the Coast Guard for long-range.”

“And in kind of the middle range area, we made great strides on a small UAS that we can deploy on our ships… it’s kind of a prototype system, over the last several years with Coast Guard Cutter Stratton. So, we deployed a UAS on board for three or four deployments,” he said. “And that UAS has provided great capabilities and our crews love them.”

Asked if the Coast Guard would team up with the Navy on drones in the same manner as their integrated program for icebreakers, Haycock replied, “I don’t know that we need that for the UAS, because we’ve actually made phenomenal progress on this endeavor as it is so far.”

The R&D budget has been operating around $18 million for the past several years, “and that gets us where we need to go,” said the admiral. “It would obviously be better if we had more, but we find ways of getting around that by leveraging the other entities out there that have done some of this work.”

Haycock told lawmakers that “autonomous systems are a very important part of the future in the Arctic.”

“We need to make sure that vessels navigating in the Arctic regions and those that are taking station up there, for resources, oil exploration, that sort of thing, are safe and can operate up there,” he said. “And so, we welcome the opportunity to work with industry to further explore those things.”

“…To form partnerships, we provide an opportunity for them to get on the Coast Guard assets and test things. And then we have the opportunity to learn more about it and figure out how to adapt that for use in the Coast Guard.”

Bridget Johnson is the Managing Editor for Homeland Security Today. A veteran journalist whose news articles and analyses have run in dozens of news outlets across the globe, Bridget first came to Washington to be online editor and a foreign policy writer at The Hill. Previously she was an editorial board member at the Rocky Mountain News and syndicated nation/world news columnist at the Los Angeles Daily News. Bridget is a weekly columnist for the New York Observer and a senior fellow specializing in terrorism analysis at the Haym Salomon Center. She is a Senior Risk Analyst for Gate 15 and Washington Bureau Chief for PJ Media. She is an NPR on-air contributor and has contributed to USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, National Review Online, Politico, New York Daily News, The Jerusalem Post, The Hill, Washington Times, RealClearWorld and more, and has myriad television and radio credits including Al-Jazeera and SiriusXM.

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