The Northrop Grumman [NOC] MQ-8C Fire Scout is in its first deployment in the Indo-Pacific area of responsibility and second overall operational deployment this month, the company said.

MQ-8C is deployed on the USS

Jackson (LCS-6) Independence-variant Littoral Combat Ship to provide maritime intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance and targeting capabilities.

“The MQ-8C Fire Scout is an extremely flexible unmanned aerial system and a pillar in the Navy and Marine Corps unmanned campaign plan,” said Capt. Dennis Monagle at Naval Air Systems Command.

“While Fire Scout will still be active on remaining littoral combat ships, the system is being built into the Constellation-class frigate design, most notably the USS Constellation (FFG-62), as well as other ship classes,” Monagle added.

That was a reference to the Navy’s FY ‘23 30-year long term shipbuilding plan, which revealed the service plans to retire the Jackson in 2024 after only nine years of service out of an originally planned 25 years.

The Navy and Marine Corps plan to deploy MQ-8Cs from LCSs, frigates, and shore sites under the Expeditionary Advanced Base Operations concept. The company noted the aircraft can potentially be used in the future for mine countermeasures and anti-submarine warfare missions.

MQ-8C was first deployed on the USS Milwaukee (LCS-5) in the Caribbean Sea in January (Defense Daily, Jan. 24).

In the first deployment, the aircraft “provided increased maritime intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance and targeting (ISR&T) capability that contributed greatly to the success of the U.S. Navy’s counter-narcotics operations,” Lance Eischeid, Northrop Grumman director for the Fire Scout program, said in a statement.

The company noted the MQ-8C is useful in demonstrating manned-unmanned teaming concepts, enabling sensor information sharing across a distributed force, and reduce risks to manned aircraft.

MQ-8C is an advancement over previous models by including a larger payload and having higher endurance than previous models. It also includes the upgraded Leonardo Osprey AN/ZPY-8 radar.

The MQ-8C provides over 10 hours of endurance and has a range of over 1,000 nautical miles. It uses a Bell Textron [TXT] 407 commercial helicopter airframe.

In March the Navy said it was planning to prototype a new BAE Systems mine countermeasure sensor suite, called the Single System Multi-Mission Airborne Mine Detection (SMAMD) Future Naval Capability Program, on the MQ-8C this spring. The system is meant to help the aircraft detect and localize mines and obstacles on both land and sea (Defense Daily, March 2).

It is not clear if the current deployment includes this capability.

Also on May 24 LCS-6 also began conducting training with the Royal Thai Navy as part of the 28th annual Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training (CARAT) exercise in the Gulf of Thailand. 

The event  will include maritime domain awareness training with a P-8A Poseidon aircraft and both navies practicing helicopter cross-deck landings as well as search and rescue training. Participating Thai vessels include the frigates HTMS Naresuan (FFG 421), HTMS Bangpakong (FFG 456), and HTMS Kraburi (FFG 457).