The Navy’s Air Test and Evaluation Squadron 1 (VX-1) finished the first comprehensive operational test of its new shipboard unmanned helicopter late last month, the service said on Monday.
Initial operational test and evaluation of the Northrop Grumman [NOC] MQ-8C Fire Scout, conducted June 29, saw the aircraft perform several mission scenarios aboard the Independence-variant Littoral Combat Ship USS Coronado (LCS-4) off the coast of southern California.
Testing included simulated engagements to evaluate the aircraft’s target identification, intelligence gathering, and surface warfare capabilities. The unit also developed practices for operating and maintaining the Fire Scout and MH-60S Seahawk simultaneously aboard the LCS.
Fire Scout is built by Northrop Grumman and based on a Bell [TXT] 407 airframe. Sikorsky[LMT] builds the MH-60S.
The MQ-8C is a larger and longer-endurance variant of the MQ-8B unmanned surveillance helicopter. The Navy intends to deploy it with the LCS to provide reconnaissance, situational awareness, and precision targeting support.
The Navy announced these tests two weeks earlier and characterized them as a continuation of tests that started in April (Defense Daily, June 21).
The service said test results concluded that simultaneous operation of the MQ-8 and MH-60 require extensive coordination and planning, but can be done. The Navy also noted a milestone in demonstrating cohesion between aviation and surface programs. This will help inform decision-makers on how to best integrate the MQ-8C into LCSs and other platforms, the Navy said
“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,” Lt. Cmdr. Seth Ervin, the VX-1 detachment’s lead aboard Coronado, said in a statement.
Additional pierside testing of Fire Scout will continue on the Coronado through mid-July, focusing on maintenance and cybersecurity. LCS-4 is home ported in San Diego.
The Fire Scout is also demonstrating the utility of using the Link 16 encrypted nodeless tactical digital data link network on the aircraft. This past April the MQ-8C program manager said the Navy is conducting the demonstration with the hope that it could send radar and electro-optic infrared data to generate a target set and send target update messages to a weapon in-flight for more precise targeting (Defense Daily, April 9).
The Navy completed initial MQ-8C flight tests off a ship to verify it can safely operate on an LCS using the USS Montgomery (LCS-8) in April 2017 (Defense Daily, April 13, 2017).