The Navy completed a comprehensive Initial Operational Test and Evaluation (IOT&E) for the MQ-8C Fire Scout, proving that the unmanned helicopter can work with a Littoral Combat Ship to identify targets and gather intelligence in support of surface warfare.
USS Coronado (LCS-4) and Air Test and Evaluation Squadron 1 (VX-1) completed the test event on June 29, according to a Navy news release.
“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 lead for the VX-1 detachment aboard Coronado, said in the news release.
The IOT&E not only looked at the unmanned vehicle’s ability to work with the LCS but also with manned helicopters as well. The evaluation “also 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,” according to the news release.
“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,” Aviation Machinist’s Mate Second Class Salvatore Greene, a member of VX-1, said in the news release.
In 2016 Coronado deployed with the smaller MQ-8B Fire Scout, but the MQ-8C’s larger airframe allows for double the range and endurance and triple the payload capacity, according to builder Northrop Grumman. The service may use these greater capabilities to help serve as a forward spotter or carry more weapons in surface warfare.
The larger UAV conducted its first ship-based flight aboard USS Jason Dunham (DDG-109) in December 2014 and conducted testing aboard an LCS, USS Montgomery (LCS-8) in April 2017.
With IOT&E now complete, the MQ-8C Fire Scout will continue pierside testing onboard Coronado throughout mid-July with a focus on maintenance and cyber, according to the news release.