Home » Aviation » Fire Scout to Serve as Forward Spotter for Navy Surface Ships With Addition of Radar, Datalink

Fire Scout to Serve as Forward Spotter for Navy Surface Ships With Addition of Radar, Datalink

An MQ-8C Fire Scout helicopter sits on the deck of Independence-class littoral combat ship USS Montgomery (LCS-8). US Navy Photo

The Navy’s MQ-8C Fire Scout unmanned aerial vehicles will receive a new radar and datalink to set the UAV up as a forward spotter for the Navy’s surface fleet.

The Northrop Grumman-built UAV is set to be upgraded with a Leonardo Osprey 30 Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radar and the Link 16 datalink, the combination of which will allow the UAV to distribute air-to-air and surface targeting information to ships in a surface action group, company officials told USNI News last week.

“You’ve seen a good body of literature coming out of the Navy describing distributed maritime operations and how they view that: a lot of different ships spread out over very broad ocean areas. And having the Fire Scout with Link 16 as part of that formation of ships is a key enabler to that capability and requires no additional modification to any of the other platforms,” Jack Thomas, director of Tactical Autonomous Systems Mission Engineering at Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems, told USNI News last week.
“Putting it aboard Fire Scout is really going to shorten the cycle from cue throughout the mission if you were engaging anti-surface warfare [targets]. We certainly see Fire Scout as the long-range, high-endurance sensor that does the detecting and identification that will shorten that cycle from initial detection through to managing that track where we see the incorporation of Link 16 into that program.”

As part of the Navy’s notional distributed maritime operations concept, Fire Scout being resident on a future frigate or Littoral Combat Ship could route targeting information from its AESA radars at ranges much further than the sensors on a surface ship but still within the range of weapons that could reach a surface target.

“Right now the focus is on the sensors which are the advanced radar on the aircraft and continuing that integration effort,” Melissa Packwood, Fire Scout program director at Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems, told USNI News.
“The Navy’s plan for testing for the MQ-8C in the springtime of next year.”

The Fire Scout will also be integrated with the Johns Hopkins-developed Minotaur Track Management and Mission Management system that combines information from several different sets of sensors to create a unified target picture for a battle group.

The platform is currently operating on the Navy’s Littoral Combat Ships and will be a key component of the upcoming next-generation frigate program (FFG(X)), according to the Navy in its submissions to industry on the requirements of the new ship.

“In the future, there was a good piece of news that the Navy has signaled that, as part of the FFG(X) program, the future frigate will incorporate Fire Scout as part of its baseline requirement,” Packwood said.
“That’s where we see it going. It was really encouraging for us to see that in its documentation.”

The service has so far bought 30 MQ-8Cs for the LCS program, Packwood said.

  • A voice of reason

    Where’s Fleet Admiral Duene. I’m sure he would’ve been the first to post here, foaming at the mouth, about how the LCS is “BAR NONE, look it has Harpoons, one-shot-one kill, the best, can do anything, cutting edge, usupassed ASW, ASuW, AAW modules, more powerful than a destroyer and now it has Firescout,” yada yada yada

    • Duane

      “thoughtful and respectful of others … personal attacks and abusive language are not tolerated”


      • Duane-aka Sir Lockmart

        But you are a Fleet Admiral aren’t you? Are you saying you’re not? if you’re not a Fleet Admiral then you’ve been disrepecting all of us.

        • Bob467

          Duene, Duene? Can someone speak for him, he seems to be out cold!

  • Duane

    But, but but but … the anti-LCS critics all say in unison that the LCS cannot sense or track long range surface targets because … because … because … uhhh? Well, just because.

    Wish I had a buck for every time I’ve had to resort to, you know, citing facts and science, in all those silly arguments about all the things the LCS supposedly cannot do. Like, the fact that surface ships cannot sense long range surface targets, or incoming sea-skimming anti-ship cruise missiles from beyond the horizon, using their own sensors. Because of (drum roll) physics.

    To sense a long range surface target, or near surface target (like the typical sea-skimming ASCM), requires an aerial sensor. And the LCS have either as good as, or better, aerial sensors than any other ship on the planet. Via a combination of deployed MH-60s, MQ-8Bs, and/or MQ-8Cs (as described in this post).

    • DaSaint

      LOL! Enjoy Duane.

      But what the heck was Fire Scout going to carry anyway, other than an EO sensor?? It had to have a surface search radar, and datalink, didn’t it? I mean, the whole point of a UAV is that it is datalinked to somewhere, either on land or a surface ship or an aircraft.

      So what’s new here, other than the fact that it’s an AESA radar capable of BOTH surface and air search. And that’s great, other than the fact that it could also give away it’s position, but that’s just a fact of life with any radar transmitter. Sophisticated processors can determine the type of radar, cross-reference the type of platform, and plot a general operational radius of the deploying unit.

      That said, I think it’s a great move. But a completely logical and expected one. So much so that, again, I say, so what were the avionics and sensors in the first place? The bigger news is that ‘the service has so far bought 30 MQ-8Cs for the LCS program’. That should mean that there are more of them than LCS thus far.

      • Duane

        Thanks, DaSaint. The FireScouts (all models) were always intended and designed to provide, well, just as its name implied, remote sensing fire control data for a number of applications. Everything from finding surface and aerial targets (via electro optical, FLIR and lasers), and then transmitting data back to the ship for use by the guns systems. Also ASW activities in concert with the MH-60s. And remote mine sensing for shallow water mines (as recently described in a detailed post here on USNI).

        What has happened in the 20 years or so of development, is that sensors have gotten progressively smaller, lighter, and more capable. The latest sensors include a distributed aperture AESA radar, which gives the MQ-8 long range radar search and tracking of up to 200 targets simultaneously, capability similar as its larger manned cousin, the MH-60. And now as reported here it also features LINK 16 data comms and networking. It’s been a steady evolution.

        • DaSaint

          OK, found it, courtesy (cough) Wiki!

          In January 2013, the Navy awarded a $33 million contract to Telephonics for the RDR-1700B+ radar, designated AN/ZPY-4(V)1. The radar gives a beyond the horizon broad area search and track capability to track up to 200 targets and operates in surface search, terrain mapping, emergency beacon detection, and weather avoidance modes, supplementing the FLIR Systems Brite Star II electro-optical/infrared payload. It was first demonstrated on an MQ-8B on 7 May 2014.

          On 16 October 2016, the USS Coronado (LCS-4) deployed to Singapore with two MQ-8B Fire Scouts, which for the first time had the Telephonics AN/ZPY-4(V)1 radar, giving them a beyond the horizon broad area search and track capability to track up to 200 targets with surface search, terrain mapping, emergency beacon detection, and weather avoidance modes.

          Ok, so they’re upgrading from the RDR-1700B+ to the Leonardo Osprey 30 AESA radar.

          Every surface combatant should have at least 2 of these (or successor) UAVs to complement at least 1 manned helo.

        • ST-1 retired

          In a shooting war, the firescounts will last <2 mins, during which time the 'host' LCS will be trianglulated and targeted with 3 YJ-91 missiles from Chinese WARships, which the poor LCS will neither 'see' or even be aware it was being targeted. But at least you would be very proud of those brave sailors.

          • Duane

            And how will those “Chinese warships” be able to down aircraft from beyond the detection range of the MQ-8s and MH-60s? What exactly very long range surface to air or air to air missiles do they have, and how effective are those super long range SAMs and AAMs? Are you suggesting that the Chinese have AEGIS-equivalent systems on all their “warships” – most of which are small corvettes hardly able to protect themselves or deploy long range scouting aircraft, and certainly are not “stealthy” and thus not subject to detection by our aircraft. And the Chinese do not have NIFCCA or CANES or the equivalent networking system as we do, including LCS as well as our other warships.

            You’re just making assertions without backing anything up at all. Be specific – what “Chinese warships”, what long range sensors, what deployed aircraft, etc. etc. etc. And by the way, even if what you asserted without factual basis were true, it would apply equally to all our surface warships, since none have better long range surface search capabilities than do the LCS.

            Oh, and by the way, the LCS most certainly can shoot down three Chinese YJ-91 ASCMs with its SeaRam. And the paltry range of that missile (50 km, just half the range of a Harpoon) means that the MQ-8 will detect the “Chinese warship” far beyond the range of its missiles, and call in a missile strike from the LCS long before the Chinese can even shoot. Using today’s Harpoons. With next year’s NSM, the LCS will outrange the Chinese corvettes by more than 3 to 1. In two years with LRASM, the LCS will outrange the “Chinese warship” by 10 to 1.

          • Duane-aka Sir Lockmart

            If all you say is true, then we should just retire the entire fleet and replace everything, including subs, with the mighty-Bar- None Battle Frigate, the LCS, since according to you, it is the mightiest thing on the planet. (fyi, we can tell when you are ‘tiggered’ because you’re very verbose).

          • Old Salt

            In the board game “Duenes World Wars” the LCS piece is the most powerful in the game, it can sweep the ocean of all other enemy ‘players’ which includes submarines, destroyers, missile boats, and even stealth aircraft. I hear that the Navy War College war games out scenarios using this board game, but for some reason, the LCS fleet still gets sunk everytime-they’re quite baffled.

    • Mk-Ultra

      yea the replies posted in just a couple articles makes it pretty clear its just a circle jerk to automatically dismiss the LCS with no real explanation of their own.

      Monkey see monkey do mostly. El Kabong is the perfect example. instead of explaining why he thinks what he thinks about the LCS, she just kept calling me troll, comment police, and how I should learn English (?) and suddenly I was illiterate.

      Its like they’re just conditioned to hate the LCS just because and anyone who disagrees

  • Centaurus

    So now we have FLYING MONKEYS ? El Kabong sez that ! I donnot seez no flyin’ monkeyz. Lets just missile-up a bunch’a these and kill-kill-kill ?

  • @USS_Fallujah

    I think surface warfare with soon develop, as ACM is, into a hide-and-seek/stealth environment similar to ASW. Off boarded ISR assets fill the role of passive sonar, allowing the hunter to stay hidden, surface ships using their active arrays will be like subs using their active sonar, effective at quickly determining a firing solution, but broadcasting it’s location to far more enemies than it can detect.

    • publius_maximus_III

      Sort of a radar “Dead Drop” arrangement, eh? The enemy can home in on the active pings coming from the chopper, but have no idea where the ship that’s receiving its omni-directional targeting information is located, other than somewhere within a very large radius circle.

      • @USS_Fallujah

        This is exactly the idea behind NIFC-CA, CVN & escorts can stay on EMCON while E-2D, F-35C, etc go active. You may know a task force is out there somewhere, but not with enough proximity to launch ASCMs (or ASBMs – though a launch at a near fix might be enough to force the escorts to light up, giving up at least their location). If you attempt to close to get a target track you’re going to get picked up and engaged long before you’re in radar, IR or visual range, and those CG/DDGs can fire SM-6 at the air or surface target from the E-2D/F-35C data feed without giving away their own location.
        Now with Fire Scouts operating in a SAG you have a lot less range (both for the platform and it’s radar) compared to an E-2D and without stealth or fighter cover their survivability is questionable, but in theory the drone SHOULD be able to avoid the most dangerous scenarios and provide target data to the host (be it LCS, DDG-1K, Burke, Tico, etc) in the SAG in a tactically advantageous timeframe, meaning you might be able to shoot it down, but that will be tricky and they’ll have inbound ASCMs to worry about.

        • OS1 retired

          Fine idea on paper, but in the cold reality of war, this thing will last about 2 minutes in a shooting war. At least with a manned system, they could react to threats, shoot back, etc. A remote and dumb Firescout will have no clue it’s about to be shot out of the sky.

          • @USS_Fallujah

            Current UAVs are far from “dumb” unlike a disposable ASCM you invest in EW and these aren’t flown by a kid with a joystick back on the ship, or in Nebraska – they are programmed to identify and react to threats, plus (in general) every AAW system is detectable far beyond it’s range/ability to engage ISR assets attempting to track them (this works both ways, so being the first to track the other is likely the winner in any engagement. This is also the reason why CVNs & CGB are so much more defendable and lethal, the addition of fighter aircraft to the anti-ISR element and addition of a robust AEW/CinC element makes surviving long enough to get a usable track highly problematic, while also making it nearly impossible for any SAG to survive because they cannot deny an enemy ISR access to their detection bubble.

          • ew_3

            As an OS1 I’d expect you to really appreciate radar coverage.
            Since the Firescout would be controlled be people on the LCS or an DDG the Firescout would be aware of impending death.
            The firescout will likely support ESM/ECM (my old job) at a distance from the LCS and the fleet. My ULQ-6 had a position called BE (Blip Enhance) which would make my tiny DE-1038 look like a carrier.

  • publius_maximus_III

    I like the painted windshield. Even an uninformed civilian like me can recognize it as a remotely piloted drone. How about adding a black eyepatch across one half, Hyer-Hyer — a morale booster like those bared teeth of the Flying Tigers.

  • Patrick Bechet

    Uh …so we have an unmanned Bell 206 with a radar and data-link. No sonorboys, no ESM, no Hellfires, no machine gun and fragile as… well an LCS. So what exactly is the advantage of this thing compared to a manned MH-60R with all the aforementioned systems? Seems just like when “littoral” combat was all the rage, dubious weapons like the underarmed, useless in anything resembling actual combat LCS was birthed, now we have UAVs being the flavour of the month, so this stupid waste of deck space was developed so the Navy could join that “sexy club”!

    • @USS_Fallujah

      The advantage of the Fire Scout over the MH-60 is (along with a few smaller advantages) endurance and expendability. A fire scout can go farther and stay longer that a manned aircraft of the same dimensions, plus you can (if necessary) expose it to a level of danger you’d never be willing to do with live shipmates. Clearly getting your unmanned ISR assets shot down isn’t on anyone’s to do list, but when pressed you can put them in danger to ensure you get the first ship-to-ship shot off.

    • ew_3

      No sonorboys, no ESM, no Hellfires, no machine gun
      ESM/ECM is a very simple add on.

      Do you know what the plan is for the future?

      I remember criticism for:
      The M1A1 did not have a diesel engine.
      The Apache
      The F-18 super hornet.

      I remember hearing the LCS had no offense weapons like Harpoon.

  • OS1 retired

    This is too damn funny, saw it on another post, reprinting with permission of Duane-Sir Lockmart

    Fleet Admiral Duine’s testimony to Congress, “By the way, my name is Fleet Admiral Bar None Duine. Easy guys, I put my pants on just like the rest of you do, except when my pants are up, I produce gold plated Littoral Combat Ships, Alright, here we go, I mean explore the ocean, I like what I seeing, roll it, but last time I checked, we don’t have a lot of wars featuring the LCS, gotta have more LCS baby”