In the News

News | Jan. 6, 2009

Research and Development Center Develops Cutting-Edge Applications to Help Coast Guard Achieve Missions

By Linda M. Johnson Delivering the Goods, U.S. Coast Guard Acquisition Directorate

WASHINGTON – The U.S. Coast Guard’s Research and Development (R&D) Center in Groton, Conn., is currently performing research, development, testing and evaluation on approximately 70 applications to help the Coast Guard develop solutions to improve performance of its multiple missions.

Two of the cutting-edge applications under development, Boat Trap and multi-mode detection devices, could help the Coast Guard enhance its port security and law enforcement missions. These technologies are modern alternatives for stopping non-compliant small boats, such as “go-fasts,” and for detecting hidden contraband, such as illegal narcotics or explosives.

Boat Trap is an aircraft-deployed, nonlethal, small vessel entanglement and stopping system. The device features a propeller entanglement system whereby an entanglement net is manually dropped from a helicopter into the path of a fleeing boat, thus safely disabling the suspicious vessel. The Boat Trap system is part of a new generation of non-lethal and less-than-lethal technologies that give the Coast Guard more options in their defense against security threats, especially in crowded harbors.

“Non-compliant small boat threats have elevated the importance of less-than-lethal technology to stop non-compliant vessels,” said Commander Eric Riepe, policy division chief for the Coast Guard Office of Law Enforcement. “Currently, the Boat Trap appears to have potential in stopping non-compliant vessels while executing Coast Guard law enforcement missions.”

A prototype Boat Trap system recently completed a successful demonstration at the Marathon Coast Guard Station in Marathon, Fla. The demonstration included a series of drops of the Boat Trap device from a helicopter into the path of a 33-foot Eduardono go-fast boat with twin 200-horsepower Yamaha outboard engines traveling at 30 to 40 knots. The demonstration this past December mimicked real-life scenarios wherein the helicopter has no communication with the boat and the operator must successfully time the drop in the right spot and from the correct altitude.

Boat Trap was developed by the Coast Guard’s R&D Center and Foster-Miller, Inc., in conjunction with the Department of Homeland Security’s Science and Technology Directorate and the Department of Defense’s Joint Non-Lethal Weapons Directorate. The Coast Guard and the Joint Non-Lethal Weapons Directorate are developing the necessary documentation to move forward with the requirements-generation process.

Multi-Mode Detection Devices

The R&D Center is also testing a device based on ion mobility spectrometry (IMS) technology to help boarding teams detect a nanogram, or one-billionth of a gram, of narcotic or explosive residue. The current device in use is a desktop system that can be calibrated to detect either narcotics or explosives but not both at the same time.

However, the R&D Center recently conducted field tests on several alternatives to the current system: desktop-based devices and handheld devices. All of these alternatives are multi-modal, which means they can detect narcotics and explosives simultaneously. The R&D Center will do an analysis of alternatives to examine the advantages and disadvantages of these technologies, and to determine which technology is best for the end user.

A report with conclusions from recent tests of dual-mode IMS devices and the technical recommendations necessary to move forward with the requirements-generation process is expected soon.

The Boat Trap and IMS multi-mode detection devices are just two examples of the progressive technologies being developed to help the Coast Guard to conduct its missions more effectively. The R&D Center’s Port Security and Law Enforcement Branch Chief Rich Hansen explained that the R&D Center’s role is “to serve as a technical advisor and make sure what is developed is useful to the Coast Guard and will meet Coast Guard needs.” Thus, the Coast Guard continually tests and evaluates technologies in order to develop sound, scientifically-based information that decision makers can use to provide mission solutions.