The Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) USS Coronado (LCS-4) started a new round of operational testing with the Northrop Grumman [NOC] MQ-8C Fire Scout unmanned helicopter on June 15, the Navy said on Thursday.
This new round of trials, off the coast of San Diego, is focused on testing the Fire Scout’s ability to operate with other airborne assets and LCSs. The Navy said this is a continuation of tests that started in April.
LCS-4 is one of four LCS testing ships for the Fire Scout.
The Coronado has experience with the unmanned helicopters. An earlier variant, the MQ-8B, was previously deployed on the Coronado in the Western Pacific from 2016-2017. LCS-4 used that unmanned helicopter as a sensor to strike a target beyond visual range with a Harpoon surface-to-surface missile.
The MQ-8C is a longer-endurance and larger variant of the MQ-8B.
In April 2017 the Navy finished the first test of the MQ-8C aboard the USS Montgomery (LCS-8). That test covered a first flight off the ship to verify the aircraft can safely operate on an LCS (Defense Daily, April 13, 2017).
This past April, the Fire Scout program manager, Capt. Jeffrey Dodge, said the Navy is conducting a demonstration of putting the Link 16 encrypted nodeless tactical data link network on the Fire Scout to test net-enabled weapons. Dodge said his office expects to do the integration work with Link 16 this year and conduct a demonstration toward the end of the year (Defense Daily, April 9).
The Navy previously said once it completes testing the MQ-8C is planned to achieve initial operational capability (IOC) this summer and be deployed aboard an LCS.
“Whether it is ensuring that the data links required are functional, fire team personnel are standing by to respond, or managing the airspace and contact pictures; every single Sailor plays a role in Fire Scout operations,” Lt. Josh Riley, the Coronado’s combat systems officer, said in a statement.
He added the tests will help shape how the Navy’s surface force will use the Fire Scout’s abilities and advantages in future years.