The press service of the Littoral Combat Ship Squadron 1 reported that MQ-8C Fire Scout unmanned helicopter has completed the first comprehensive Initial Operational Test and Evaluation (IOT&E).
According to the report by Lt.j.g. Caroline Zotti, the next-generation, unmanned air system (UAS) designed and manufactured by Northrop Grumman performed several mission scenarios aboard Coronado off the coast of southern California. These operations are an important milestone for the LCS and Fire Scout programs, and demonstrated cohesion between the surface and aviation platforms.
The MQ-8C is a Navy’s newest unmanned helicopter designed to be deployed from ground and naval platforms to perform missions including intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, cargo resupply, and communications relay. It provides naval forces with extended over-the-horizon intelligence-gathering capability.
During the IOT&E, the MQ-8C Fire Scout performed several mission scenarios aboard Coronado off the coast of southern California. These operations are an important milestone for the LCS and Fire Scout programs, and demonstrated cohesion between the surface and aviation platforms.
“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,” said Lt. Cmdr. Seth Ervin, the lead for the VX-1 detachment aboard Coronado.
Also Lt.j.g. Caroline Zotti, noted that the testing focused on developing practices for simultaneously operating and maintaining both the MQ-8C Fire Scout and the MH-60S Seahawk. Results confirmed that while it requires extensive planning and coordination across the ship, simultaneous operations can be conducted.
“It has been challenging and rewarding to be one of the first maintainers afforded the opportunity to take both aircraft aboard the ship. Working together, we made the overall product more functional and efficient for the fleet,” said Aviation Machinist’s Mate Second Class Salvatore Greene, a member of VX-1.
The chance to contribute to technological and tactical improvements within the LCS community creates a notable opportunity for Coronado’s experienced crew.
It is worth noting that the MQ-8B Fire Scout air vehicle is based on a modified Bell 407 light commercial helicopter. The MQ-8C Fire Scout builds on the ongoing accomplishments of the MQ-8B Fire Scout program. Helicopter Squadron 23 is currently operating onboard the deployed littoral combat ship, USS Coronado (LCS 4), with two MQ-8B Fire Scouts.
During Coronado’s 2016-2017 deployment to the Western Pacific, the ship successfully used MQ-8B Fire Scout as an organic sensor to strike a target beyond visual range using a Harpoon surface-to-surface missile.
With that recent success fresh in their minds, LCS Sailors are excited for future employment of the MQ-8C Fire Scout, saying that the newer technology has increased speed, a higher ceiling, over twice the fuel endurance, and an improved payload capacity.
“Operating with the MQ-8C Fire Scout offers unique challenges, but it is the perfect partner to an LCS,” said Lt. j.g. Alex Giltz, Coronado’s auxiliaries officer and one of the few shipboard officers who has operated with both versions of the Fire Scout.