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Research Question

  1. What mixes of airpower promise to help the USCG execute its variety of missions across the entire geographic domain for operations in the next 30 years?

The U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) uses a fleet of fixed-wing (FW) and rotary-wing (RW) aircraft to conduct a variety of missions. That fleet's composition is now aging, with the RW aircraft nearing their ends of life. As the air fleet ages and needs to be replaced, the USCG can reassess its airpower needs for its current missions and its possible future operational requirements. Researchers examined USCG airpower⁠—specifically, what mixes of airpower can help the USCG execute its variety of missions across the entire geographic domain for operations in the next 30 years.

To address this question, the authors developed a scenario based on current demand for USCG missions, then a set of alternative demand scenarios. They also developed alternative air fleet options—a mix of FW and RW aircraft, as well as unmanned aircraft systems (UASs)—to model these aircraft's cost-informed effectiveness in meeting the demand in each scenario. The authors then modeled how each fleet option performed in each of the scenarios. The Cost-Informed Analysis of Fleet Effectiveness model incorporated USCG cost and performance data to measure performance and relative cost with a given fleet–demand scenario combination. This report should be of interest to the USCG as it considers recapitalization options for its current fleet of FW and RW aircraft. The work presented here could serve as the foundation for an analysis of alternatives and to make judgments about the validity of different recapitalization options, including the need for an expanded fleet of USCG UASs.

Key Findings

The USCG captures only actual activity

  • The USCG captures its actual activity but not data that can indicate priorities or what should have been done, so prioritizing demand for any future scenario remains elusive.

The most-favorable options in some demand scenarios have roughly the same total numbers of RW and FW aircraft as the current fleet

  • Because none of the demand scenarios eliminated any specific types of demand, the best fleet often looks like the current fleet.

Recapitalizing RW assets with more-capable assets appears to be a good option

  • This is true even if slightly fewer assets are procured.

Incorporating UASs is particularly cost-effective for demand scenarios with detection and monitoring activities

  • UASs will likely be a major element of the force structure. In many demand scenarios, fleets with UASs appear to be the most cost-effective, although future UAS costs are uncertain. However, fleets with UASs could be riskier and less flexible than fleets with additional manned aircraft because UASs cannot do everything manned aircraft can.

The medium-range UAS (MUAS) appears to be effective

  • This assumes that MUASs would have an appropriate wide-area sensor package that could be integrated. Surveillance missions especially must be achievable with UASs. If MUASs cannot meet this requirement, a larger UAS or FW manned asset will be required.


  • In the long run, build a robust fleet in order to be effective for a variety of possible demand scenarios. The current fleet—although aging—is well suited for having a significant RW aircraft laydown to respond to search-and-rescue cases. It does less well in scenarios that require increased detection and monitoring–type sorties.
  • Consider UASs as a potential major element of the future aircraft fleet. Fleets with UASs performed well across demand scenarios.
  • Incorporate UASs into the fleet using a measured and deliberate approach to ensure that these aircraft can suitably perform the surveillance mission and that appropriate numbers are procured to ensure an effective and robust fleet.
  • Optimize the use of the helicopter fleet. Helicopters are part of a robust fleet, but other assets are typically more efficient and typically better suited for longer-range missions. Determining the right asset for the activity could result in delaying the required time frame to recapitalize the helicopter fleet.
  • As UASs are incorporated into the fleet, consider how this change affects the RW and FW fleets. The current fleet provides an enormous capability that could be enhanced with the addition of UASs. However, these changes need to be made very carefully because piloted platforms provide much more flexibility if the overall demand for mission-tasks changes. Introduce UASs into the fleet and modify the current fleets of manned aircraft once sufficient operational experience is gained with the new capability.

This research was sponsored by the USCG Deputy Commandant for Operations and conducted within the Strategy, Policy and Operations Program of the Homeland Security Operational Analysis Center (HSOAC).

This report is part of the RAND research report series. RAND reports present research findings and objective analysis that address the challenges facing the public and private sectors. All RAND reports undergo rigorous peer review to ensure high standards for research quality and objectivity.

RAND is a nonprofit institution that helps improve policy and decisionmaking through research and analysis. RAND's publications do not necessarily reflect the opinions of its research clients and sponsors.