A Look Inside the U.S. Coast Guard’s Search and Rescue Technology

A Look Inside the U.S. Coast Guard’s Search and Rescue Technology In the future, an unmanned aerial capability could be implemented during search and rescue operations to send data to the U.S. Coast Guard using SeaCommander. (Lockheed Martin concept)

The two ships’ fates were sealed. Split in half, the Pendleton was 10 miles from shore, while the Fort Mercer floated in two pieces 20 miles from shore. It was February 1952, and the nor’easter that destroyed the two T-2 tankers continued to rage on, with snow, wind and choppy waters.

Enter the U.S. Coast Guard.

For more than 100 years, the Coast Guard has served around the globe to save those in peril. On Jan. 29, 2016, Disney’s “The Finest Hours” brought to life one of the Coast Guard’s most heroic rescues, when it rescued 70 men from Pendleton and Fort Mercer.


“The Pendleton rescue is a textbook example of how the Coast Guard used to rely on the expertise and experience of small boat coxswains using their ‘seaman’s eye’ along with a compass and a radio, to accomplish extraordinary things” said Ken Prime, business development manager for U.S. Coast Guard programs at Lockheed Martin’s Mission Systems and Training business unit.

Prime served 23 years in the Coast Guard and held many roles, including assistant chief of the National Search and Rescue School.

“Today, technology provides more accurate position information to help the Coast Guard respond faster and enables the Coast Guard to better coordinate and communicate between multiple agencies and different units by providing connectivity between ship, shore and air assets,” he said.

When time is critical during search and rescue operations, information becomes vital in making decisions and taking action.

Advanced technology systems and platforms provide on-scene commanders the tools to effectively direct and deploy resources.


Command and Control Software

SeaCommander is the integrated command and control software that increases situational awareness for the crews operating the Coast Guard’s National Security Cutters (NSC). SeaCommander processes information from all of the sensors and systems on board the NSC and provides the crew with actionable results to aid in decision-making.

SeaCommander ensures that the USCG crew can see vessels in distress and allows the USCG to pass data to DoD assets at sea, air or shore.


Long-Range Search and Rescue Aircraft

Long-range search and rescue aircraft such as the HC-130Js have a surface search radar that can see for 100s of square miles, in addition to an electro-optic/infrared turret that helps to find people, boats and life rafts at night or in bad weather. This aircraft’s full communications suite allows crew members to talk to commercial or U.S. Navy ship crews in the area to assist in rescues as necessary.


Rescue Helicopters

After the distressed mariners are found by the HC-130J systems and sensors, the crew directs aircraft such as the Sikorsky HH-60J JAYHAWK helicopters to respond. The helicopter crews deploy rescue swimmers to the exact spot to complete the rescue.

International search and rescue agencies use the Sikorsky S-92® rescue helicopters. Outfitted with suite of modern sensors including thermal imaging, night vision and emergency beacon locating systems, the aircraft quickly locate survivors in need under all weather conditions.



The next evolution of search and rescue includes integrating unmanned systems into the operation. Unmanned systems can cover large areas and provide immediate data to operators, using specialized cameras that show heat patterns to identify individuals in need.

In the future, it is foreseeable that the Coast Guard may use larger unmanned systems in evacuations or to provide immediate aid, Prime said.

“Professionals will need to know the capabilities of their available resources, including training levels of personnel, equipment and systems,” he added. “They’ll also need to know the intricacies of their area of responsibility, including the weather conditions and effects of winds, tides and currents on the local area.”

Prime noted that crew members must be information detectives, and reevaluate their assumptions if their search efforts are not successful on the first try.

“It is a mentality to never give up if there is still a chance for survival,” he said.

Published February 2, 2016