Northrop Grumman Corporation’s (NYSE: NOC) autonomous Fire Scout helicopters, the MQ-8B and MQ-8C, continued to strengthen the combat capability and lethality of the U.S. Navy’s air and surface warfare communities throughout 2017.
The U.S. Navy and Northrop Grumman enhanced Fire Scout’s capability, concepts of operations (CONOPS) and mission sets by demonstrating targeting capabilities at-sea, over land, teaming with manned assets, and integrating new technologies.
For the first time, Fire Scout’s manned/unmanned teaming (MUM-T) capabilities proved station-to-station hand offs of two Fire Scouts and the ability to stream organic intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance and targeting (ISR&T) data to an Amphibious Readiness Group/Marine Expeditionary Unit.
With a radar already integrated onto the MQ-8B, the U.S. Navy has also started integrating an active, electronically scanned array radar onto the MQ-8C. The addition of this advanced radar to the long range, longer endurance MQ-8C will greatly enhance any surface action group’s ability to strike at distance and increase situational awareness over broad maritime and littoral environments.
“2017 has been a pivotal year for Fire Scout,” said Capt. Jeff Dodge, U.S. Navy Fire Scout Program Manager. “Today, operational squadrons are deployed and more are preparing to deploy to meet the expanding needs of the U.S. Navy. The Fleet has only scratched the surface of Fire Scout’s true capabilities and the missions Fire Scout will perform. Fleet capability will only grow as the MQ-8C Fire Scout enters the operational force.”
“This was another strong year of performance for Fire Scout and the U.S. Navy” said Melissa Packwood, program director, Fire Scout, Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems. “Fire Scout is affordably delivering new mission capability and with an integrated radar on both variants, it is a versatile and powerful autonomous system for the maritime environment.”
Fire Scout 2017 milestones:
- January through November – Two radar equipped MQ-8Bs were operationally deployed aboard the independence-class Littoral Combat Ship USS Coronado (LCS-4). Operating in the 7th Fleet’s area of responsibility in 2017, the Fire Scout’s supported multiple bilateral and multilateral exercises with 16 partner nations. Fire Scout provided USS Coronado with an organic, persistent ISR&T capability- a critical enabling component of distributed maritime operations. Fire Scout’s over the horizon targeting also enabled the USS Coronado to showcase its strike capability in the surface warfare mission.
- April - MQ-8C Fire Scout made its first flight from a U.S. Navy independence-class Littoral Combat Ship, USS Montgomery (LCS 8). The two week, at-sea event allowed the U.S. Navy to test the MQ-8C’s airworthiness and expand the aircraft’s operational envelope from an LCS.
- May – U.S. Navy personnel successfully completed a two-part demonstration with two radar-equipped MQ-8B Fire Scouts. The demonstration proved Fire Scout’s ability to hand off controls from one mission control system to another as they operated between Naval Base Ventura County, California, and Naval Auxiliary Landing Field San Clemente Island, California. Fire Scout also proved the CONOPS for live streaming of ISR&T data to the amphibious assault ship, USS America (LHA 6) and embarked Marine Expeditionary Unit. The demo concluded with Fire Scout providing MUM-T laser-designation for a MH-60S Hellfire missile shot. Training and rehearsal for the demonstration was conducted on a Northrop Grumman Fire Scout simulator used for operator training.
- August - A radar-equipped MQ-8B Fire Scout participated in a bilateral maritime exercise, Pacific Griffin, providing real-time targeting data to the independence-class Littoral Combat Ship, USS Coronado (LCS-4). The ship fired a Harpoon Block 1C missile, successfully hitting a surface target significantly beyond the ship’s visual range. Fire Scout’s expanding ISR&T capability is adding lethality to the U.S. Navy’s distributed maritime operations doctrine.
- October – The Fire Scout payload, the AN/DVS-1 Coastal Battlefield Reconnaissance and Analysis (COBRA), airborne mine detection system completed the first phase of its initial operational test and evaluation. The alternate Fire Scout sensor payload can detect beach zone mines in the daytime, provide reconnaissance for amphibious landing forces and provide precision navigation to amphibious vehicles coming ashore. This enhanced mission capability will enable the mine countermeasure variant of LCS to grow its mission capability.
- December – For the first time, Helicopter Squadron (HSC 23) integrated a radar-equipped MQ-8B Fire Scout into a carrier air wing strike package with Naval Air Warfare Development Center at Naval Air Station Fallon, Nevada. The goal was to integrate Fire Scout organic ISR&T capability in a multi-level training environment to increase autonomous systems in a distributed maritime environment.
“Our mission engineering approach allows us to anticipate and solve some of the Fleet’s toughest problems with today’s MQ-8B Fire Scouts,” said Jack Thomas, mission engineering director, Fire Scout, Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems. “Meanwhile, MQ-8C’s increased capability will enable the U.S. Navy to address emerging threats with new capabilities like Link-16 for collaborative engagement with net-enabled weapons in the near future.”
Fire Scout’s noteworthy year of performance is a testament to the versatility and dynamic capability the autonomous system brings to the U.S. Navy. The Fire Scout system continues to perform in existing and new mission areas and will play an increasingly larger role for tactical maritime users in the coming year.