HC-144A Ocean Sentry
The HC-144A, the official designation issued by the Air Force, is a transport and surveillance, fixed-wing aircraft that will be used to perform search and rescue missions, enforce laws and treaties including illegal drug interdiction, marine environmental protection, military readiness, and International Ice Patrol missions, as well as cargo and personnel transport. It can perform aerial delivery of search and rescue equipment such as rafts, pumps, and flares, and it can be used for on scene command and control.
Slated to replace the Service's aging fleet of HU-25 Falcon fan jets, the HC-144A, a derivative of the EADS/CASA CN-235-300, significantly enhances the mission capabilities of Coast Guard aircrews. This fixed-wing turbo prop aircraft provides invaluable on-scene loitering capabilities and perform various missions, including maritime patrol, law enforcement, Search and Rescue (SAR), disaster response, and cargo & personnel transport. The Mission System Pallet is a roll-on, roll-off suite of electronic equipment that enables the aircrew to compile data from the aircraft's multiple integrated sensors and transmit and receive both classified "Secret"-level and unclassified information to other assets, including surface vessels, other aircraft, local law enforcement and shore facilities.
Produced in Spain with substantial U.S. components, the platform is derivative of EADS/CASA's $21.5 million CN-235 medium range aircraft, powered by two General Electric CT7-9C3 turboprop engines (the CT7-9C3 is similar to the T700-GE-401C used by the Coast Guard's HH-60 helicopters). The CN-235 is flown by the armed forces of more than 23 nations worldwide.
The Coast Guard's version of the aircraft is equipped with a state of the market Rockwell-Collins Flight 2 glass cockpit instrument panel, autopilot & avionics suite for a two-person aircrew; Telephonics' APS 143C(V) multi-mode radar, and FLIR Systems' Star Safire III electro-optical/infrared (EO/IR) sensor.
The Mission Systems Pallet (MSP) is the core of the HC-144A's Coast Guard mission capability. The removable command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (C4ISR) pallet, developed by Lockheed Martin, allows two operators to control the aircraft's radar and EO/IR sensors and communications equipment-collecting, managing and transmitting mission data. The HC-144A's mission pallet also contributes information to build what the Coast Guard calls "Maritime Domain Awareness." Information collected by the aircraft is transmitted to the Coast Guard's shore-based Maritime Domain Awareness Center, which in turn posts relevant data to a common operational picture shared by command centers, cutters and aircraft in the area.
With multiple voice and data communications capabilities, including UHF/VHF, HF, and Commercial Satellite Communications (SATCOM), the HC-144A will be able to contribute to a Common Tactical Picture (CTP) and Common Operating Picture (COP) through a networked Command and Control (C2) system that provides for data sharing via SATCOM. The aircraft is also equipped with a vessel Automatic Identification System, direction finding equipment, a surface search radar, an Electro-Optical/ Infra-Red system, and Electronic Surveillance Measures equipment to improve situational awareness and responsiveness. With all assets in a given area sharing this common operational picture on their display screens, it will be easier for commanders to more efficiently use their forces - that means cutters and aircraft can be directed to act more effectively and cooperatively on rescue, law enforcement and defense missions. Sharing up-to-date information will help cut out a lot of the 'search' out of search & rescue, and will narrow efforts down to just those contacts of interest on law enforcement missions.
The mission package is one of several confi gurations of the aircraft. The modularity of the HC-144A allows it to be reconfi gured for a variety of missions, while retaining at least minimum functionality with the aircraft's sensors. The aircraft's cargo compartment can be changed from the MSP and crew rest area to three cargo pallets with as much as 9,985 lbs. of materiel; or 40 passengers in troop seats; or 20 passengers in airline seats; or 12 litter patients and three attendants for medical evacuation operations.
The HC-144A's endurance (almost nine hours airborne, depending upon the aircraft confi guration) will allow an aircrew to use their radar and EO/IR sensors to track contacts of interest until an intercept is made by surface vessels - either to rescue mariners in distress or to interdict suspected criminals. The fuel efficiency of the Ocean Sentry design offers more endurance than the aircraft it will replace, the HU-25 Guardian (which is based on Dassault's Falcon 20G commercial jet). Greater endurance -- about seven to nine hours useful time, vs. four hours maximum in a Falcon -- allows the aircrew to remain on station longer, collect more information and track targets for longer periods of time.
Mission endurance will allow the powerful surveillance capabilities of the HC-144A's MSP to support other assets-such as helicopters- cooperate more effectively with the maritime patrol crew. For example, in the past a maritime patrol aircraft crew provided limited information to a partner helicopter, which would then descend to perform visual reconnaissance of each contact.
The first aircraft was unveiled 23 March 2006 at the EADS CASA plant in San Pablo (Seville) at a ceremony attended by the U.S. ambassador to Spain, the vice commandant of the Coast Guard, and senior company executives representing EADS CASA, EADS North America, Lockheed Martin and ICGS, as well as various government officials from both countries. This ceremony marked a significant milestone in development and delivery of the new aircraft for the Coast Guard.
On Feb. 20, 2008, two U.S. Air Force F-15C fighter jets from Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., collided over the Gulf of Mexico off Panama City, Fla. The Coast Guard's new HC-144A and its crew located the first pilot and directed his recovery. Both F-15C pilots were eventually recovered; regrettably only one was recovered alive. This search & rescue (SAR) mission included two important "firsts" for the U.S. Coast Guard's new HC-144A Ocean Sentry Maritime Patrol Aircraft. For the HC-144A, the incident marked its first SAR mission, and its first use as an On-Scene Coordinator (OSC) platform. HC-144A No. 2303, from Aviation training Center (ATC) Mobile, Ala., was diverted from a routine training flight and arrived first on scene to the crash area, assuming the crucial role of OSC-responsible for leading the activity of several SAR assets (including those of the Coast Guard, the Department of Defense and civilian partners).
Although not fully SAR-capable while undergoing Operational Test and Evaluation of its mission systems package (including radar, an electro-optical/infrared sensor and a communications suite), the HC-144A enhanced the Coast Guard's ability to execute a multi-agency rescue mission. The HC-144A's bubble observer windows were important design features, in that this allowed the aircrew more carefully to observe the area, including directly below the aircraft, (which is not possible to do from the legacy HU-25 aircraft).
Coast Guard officials formally accepted the first Mission Systems Pallet (MSP) for the HC-144A "Ocean Sentry" Maritime Patrol Aircraft (MPA) on March 10, 2008. Monday's acceptance followed successful completion of Developmental Test and Evaluation (DT&E) of the MSP and represents a significant milestone in the project to acquire these all new aviation assets. The fully mission capable HC-144A aircraft then began a formal Operational Test and Evaluation (OT&E) period prior to entering operational service in 2009. Eight HC-144A aircraft and three MSPs are currently on contract with Integrated Coast Guard Systems (ICGS). Current plans call for a fleet of 36 mission capable HC-144As by 2020.
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