Military

US Navy’s Unmanned Helicopter Completes Operational Shipboard Test

By Rich Abott | July 9, 2018

Northrop Grumman MQ-8C Fire Scout. Photo courtesy of Northrop Grumman

Northrop Grumman MQ-8C Fire Scout. Photo courtesy of Northrop Grumman

The U.S. Navy’s Air Test and Evaluation Squadron 1 (VX-1) finished the first comprehensive operational test of its new shipboard unmanned helicopter late last month, the service said  Monday.

Initial operational test and evaluation of the Northrop Grumman MQ-8C Fire Scout, conducted June 29, saw the aircraft perform several mission scenarios aboard the Independence-variant littoral combat ship USS Coronado (LCS-4) off the coast of southern California.

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Testing included simulated engagements to evaluate the aircraft’s target identification, intelligence gathering, and surface warfare capabilities. The unit also developed practices for operating and maintaining the Fire Scout and MH-60S Seahawk simultaneously aboard the LCS.

An MQ-8C Fire Scout unmanned helicopter conducts underway operations with an MH-60S Seahawk helicopter and the littoral combat ship USS Coronado (LCS-4) in late June 2018. (Photo: U.S. Navy)

An MQ-8C Fire Scout unmanned helicopter conducts underway operations with an MH-60S Seahawk helicopter and the littoral combat ship USS Coronado (LCS-4) in late June 2018. (Photo: U.S. Navy)

Fire Scout is built by Northrop Grumman and based on a Bell 407 airframe. Sikorsky builds the MH-60S.

The MQ-8C is a larger and longer-endurance variant of the MQ-8B unmanned surveillance helicopter. The Navy intends to deploy it with the LCS to provide reconnaissance, situational awareness, and precision targeting support.

The Navy announced these tests two weeks earlier and characterized them as a continuation of tests that started in April.

The service said test results concluded that simultaneous operation of the MQ-8 and MH-60 require extensive coordination and planning, but can be done. The Navy also noted a milestone in demonstrating cohesion between aviation and surface programs. This will help inform decision-makers on how to best integrate the MQ-8C into LCSs and other platforms, the Navy said

“The results, lessons learned, and recommendations reported on following this underway test period are absolutely invaluable to the future of the MQ-8C Fire Scout's mission effectiveness and suitability to perform that mission,” Lt. Cmdr. Seth Ervin, the VX-1 detachment’s lead aboard Coronado, said in a statement.

Additional pierside testing of Fire Scout will continue on the Coronado through mid-July, focusing on maintenance and cybersecurity. LCS-4 is home ported in San Diego.

This was originally published at sister publication Defense Daily.

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