The next-generation autonomous helicopter has operated in the Indo-Pacific for the first time aboard a literal combat ship.
The US Navy’s Northrop Grumman-built MQ-8C Fire Scout – a runway-independent helicopter system – has embarked on its first deployment to the Indo-Pacific aboard USS Jackson (LCS-6).
This was the Fire Scout’s second overall deployment, with the platform deployed with the US Navy’s Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron 22, Detachment 5 (HSC-22 DET 5) aboard USS Milwaukee (LCS-5) in January.
The platform is designed to deliver maritime intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance and targeting (ISR&T) capability and is capable of demonstrating manned-unmanned teaming (MUMT).
This is expected to enable sensor information sharing across a distributed force, helping to improve survivability while also reducing risk to manned aircraft and enhancing weapons capacity.
The platform can operate from both air-capable ships and developed for austere landing zones.
The Fire Scout is currently deployed form remaining littoral combat ships but is being built into the Constellation Class frigate design, including the USS Constellation (FFG-62), under the Expeditionary Advance Base Operations concept.
The platform is also being considered for mine countermeasures and anti-submarine warfare operations.
“The MQ-8C Fire Scout is an extremely flexible unmanned aerial system and a pillar in the Navy and Marine Corps unmanned campaign plan,” Captain Dennis Monagle, US Navy, said.
Lance Eischeid, director, Fire Scout program at Northrop Grumman, noted the capability benefits of the MQ-8C Fire Scout.
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“MQ-8C Fire Scout provided increased maritime intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance and targeting capability that contributed greatly to the success of the US Navy’s counter-narcotics operations,” Eischeid said.
MQ-8C Fire Scout leverages a Bell 407 commercial aircraft for its airframe, in a bid to improve affordability by reducing life cycle costs, including initial development, supply chain and flight hour reliability.
The system is also equipped with a Leonardo AN/ZPY-8 (Osprey) radar, enabling it to detect and automatically track contacts at long ranges and in challenging conditions.
The autonomous aircraft was designed in San Diego, California, and Fort Worth, Texas, by a joint Northrop Grumman/Bell team and manufactured in Ozark, Alabama, and Moss Point, Mississippi.
The MQ-8C achieved initial operational capability in June 2019 and is expected to begin replacing the MQ-8B variant on upcoming deployments.