U.S. Navy Fire Scout completes testing amidst Sea-Air-Space exposition

Early this month, the Navy conducted initial testing on the Northrop Grumman-built MQ-8C Fire Scout and gathered with industry leaders to discuss the latest technology at the Sea-Air-Space, the Navy League’s Global Maritime Exposition. The take away for me is that the Navy is actively pursing unmanned in land, air, and sea.

Platforms like the MQ-8C Fire Scout can carry payloads of sensors and weapon systems. In a distributed warfare scenario, can fill critical areas and help the Navy to complete missions.

The U.S. Navy’s MQ-8C Fire Scout, an unmanned helicopter, completed its initial testing onboard the Navy’s Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) USS Montgomery (LCS-8).

The LCS, with a core crew size of about 50, limits the Navy to what it can accomplish out to sea. What the Fire Scout does is address the limited crew size of the LCS and will counter emerging threats.

According to the U.S. Navy, the Fire Scout complements the manned MH-60 helicopter. The two helicopters working together will extend the range and endurance of missions conducted out at sea. This paves the way for future manned/unmanned teaming missions as well.

Because the LCS fleet is also equipped with MH-60 Sierra helicopters, the aviation crew onboard the LCS maintains and operates both the manned and unmanned helicopter. Maintenance requirements differ between each helicopter, but only one requires a pilot.

The MQ-8C Fire Scout evaluation included Dynamic Interface testing of the system’s launch and recovery procedures as well as its interoperability between the helicopter and the ship. With testing complete onboard the LCS, the MQ-8C Fire Scout would essentially be a step closer to be certified for operation, says Scott Kennedy, Director of Tactical Autonomous Systems at .

“This test established the MQ-8C Fire Scout as a maritime platform, bringing superior endurance and payload flexibility to the Fleet, bringing capability that the U.S. Navy will continue to use for many years to come,” says Capt. Jeff Dodge, Fire Scout program manager in a statement released by the U.S. Navy.

Testing emerging platforms enables the U.S. Navy and companies like Northrop Grumman to assess and evaluate where and if any adjustments need to be made. “This testing is critical as it provides the flight envelope to safely execute MQ-8C flights from this class of ship,” says Richard Gorman, Fire Scout lead assistant program manager for test and evaluation.

During testing, the Fire Scout test team completed over 37 recovery evolutions validating the system’s capability to operate with no degradation due to electromagnetic interference, Navy officials say in a release on the Fire Scout’s testing.

The MQ-8C-variant was designed to communicate with shipboard controllers using the Navy’s Mission Control System. The tests completed onboard the LCS-8 will give Northrop Grumman officials the information they need to keep meeting Department of Defense (DoD) requirements, as well as plan for future enhancements.

The next step would be to upgrade the Fire Scout with a modern active electronically scanned (AESA) radar, says Kennedy. The MQ-8C has the ability to enhance distributed maritime with its in intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) capabilities and targeting for net-enabled weapons. However, adding the radar will increase the Fire Scout’s range of view.

It currently has a 15 to 20 mile radius, but once the Fire Scout is upgraded with a radar system, that radius will expand. Kennedy explains. Its predecessor, the MQ-8B Fire Scout has that radar capability that expands the range to 200 miles.

The MQ-8C Fire Scout will serve and act as the extended “eyes” of the LCS and other ships in ISR missions. Its air-frame is based out of the Bell 407 helicopter with payloads that include , infrared systems (EO/IR), laser rangefinder (LRF), Automatic Identification System (AIS), .