Home » Aviation » MC-8C Fire Scout Completes IOT&E Event; Pierside Testing to Continue This Summer


MC-8C Fire Scout Completes IOT&E Event; Pierside Testing to Continue This Summer

An MQ-8C Fire Scout unmanned helicopter conducts underway operations with an MH-60S Seahawk helicopter and the Independence-variant littoral combat ship USS Coronado (LCS 4) on June 28, 2018. The new Fire Scout variant is expected to deploy with the LCS class to provide reconnaissance, situational awareness, and precision targeting support. US Navy photo.

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.

Maintainers from Air Test and Evaluation Squadron 1 (VX-1) analyze diagnostics from the MQ-8C Fire Scout on the flight deck of the Independence variant littoral combat ship USS Coronado (LCS 4) on June 21, 2018. US Navy photo.

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.

Air Test and Evaluation Squadron 1 (VX-1) Sailors Aviation Machinist’s Mate Second Class Salvatore Green, left, and Aviation Electronics Technician Third Class Jake Price prepare the MC-8C Fire Scout to launch from the Independence variant littoral combat ship USS Coronado (LCS-4) on June 21, 2018. VX-1 Sailors embarked Coronado to conduct the first comprehensive Initial Operational Test and Evaluation (IOT&E) for the MQ-8C Fire Scout, the Navy’s newest unmanned helicopter. US Navy photo.

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.

  • Corporatski Kittenbot 2.0

    Tough gig for the pilot not being able to see out.

    ….. I’ll get my coat.

    • Zorcon, Fidei Defensor

      Pilots are so old school?

  • But I thought all the LCS were tied up at the pier being completely useless?

    • Graeme Rymill

      In the case of this particular ship not fully useless but also not fully available to be deployed either. USNI News reported 11 April this year that “hulls 1 through 4 serve in San Diego as a test division, to help test mission module components and get them fielded”. According to the Congressional Research Service report of April 2018 “though they could be deployed as fleet assets if needed on a limited basis”. I take this to mean that if WWIII breaks out they just might be deployed or then again maybe not.

      • Duane

        The first four hulls are very busy doing testing and integration work with new systems like MQ-8C and the new Hellfire vertical launcher, and finalizing the ASW and MCM mission modules components and systems testing. By next year, most of that work will be completed.

        In addition to the systems integration work, the first four hulls are also training Blue and Gold crews for all the new ships coming off the yards … so that each new construction ship gets manned by fully trained and qualified crews.

        The “pier queen” slander is silly propaganda spread by the usual suspects.

        • Secundius

          “Hellfire’s” are being replaced by new AGM-114(X) JAGM with Multi Seeker Heads (Optical/Laser/Radar) and a range exceeding 28km. It’s a successor to the AGM-169 JCM. Authorization was made on 27 June 2018…

          • Duane

            Yes, that is the longer term plan, though in the meantime we have a pretty large inventory of Hellfire Longbows that will be immediately deployed on both the aircraft as well as the ships in the vertical launchers.

            The newer missiles will be a significant upgrade.

          • Zorcon, Fidei Defensor

            and quite a bit more expensive.

          • Graeme Rymill

            JAGM (Joint Air-to-Ground Missile) has the same warhead, same rocket motor and same flight controls as the Hellfire. Only the seeker/guidance system is new. Therefore JAGM’s maximum range will be much the same as Hellfire – about 8 km. This maximum range is if the Hellfire is air launched. Shipboard maximum range should be something less than this. Also the seeker for JAGM is dual mode- it is just Laser/ millimetre wave Radar – no “Optical”

            An increment 2 JAGM may eventuate later. It will have a max. range of 12 km. The Increment 2 is intended to have a tri-mode seeker with semi-active laser, Imaging Infrared (IIR), and millimeter wave radar guidance

          • Secundius

            Guess what British-made “Brimestone” is the Same Size as Hellfire and has nearly Three Times the Range. Apply the Same Propulsion System to Hellfire and what do you get…

          • Duane

            Yup … after a bit of research I confirmed that you are correct on range being the same at 8 km.

            There have been significant improvements in recent years of rocket motor systems that increase range substantially without enlarging the missile, such as JASSM-ER and the RIM116 Block 2. So it seems likely the JAGM will see a block 2 with similar range increase as planned.

          • Secundius

            Sixth and Seventh Paragraph Down on “Range(s)”…

            https :// www. defenseindustrydaily. com/joint-common-missile-program-fired-but-not-forgotten-0229/#.W0UCzNxODyU.email

          • Graeme Rymill

            Increment 1 is the JAGM missile approved for Low-Rate Initial Production as of June 2018. Full rate production is anticipated (but not confirmed) to happen in 2019. So a max. range of 8 km it is for the foreseeable future. There is no guarantee Increment 2 and Increment 3 will go into production in the years ahead.

        • Chesapeakeguy

          You conveniently and no doubt selectively ‘forget’ to point out how 1 out of every 4 ships that becomes commissioned will be doing testing and/or training ONLY. That is over and above the 4 already designated for such. Let’s see, with 32 hulls, that will mean no fewer than 11 ships will be devoted to training and testing. That’s almost 33%!

  • airider

    Reminds me of the time that the reactivated 50 year old battleships had RQ-2 Pioneer UAV’s (fka RPV) doing spotting duty for the 16″ guns in the first gulf war…almost 30 years ago…

  • ElmCityAle

    This may be some small insight into the future possibilities for this technology. Advanced, high powered radar systems are a strong focus for naval technology, but it comes with a downside – you give away your own position blasting out all that energy. Now imagine not only one, but several – or many – remote airborne vehicles that carry radar. The remote units can beam back the signals, which can be “meshed” together to form a much larger picture than any single unit could provide – all while allowing the base ship to remain far less detectable.

    • DaSaint

      Nice.

    • Duane

      The principal advantage of distributed networked airborne radar sensors is greatly increased sensing range against surface targets (ships) and very near surface targets (wavetop skimming ASCMs). Radar is a line of sight sensor, and due to curvature of the earth, surface radars cannot see surface or near surface targets from more than a few tens of miles away.

      Airborne radars see surface targets from much further away than any surface radar, and of course aircraft are much faster than ships so can cover a vastly larger search area in a given timeframe.

      In effect, this is very much like WW2 SuW, where the carrier based scout aircraft were in a race to detect the enemy fleet and launch an attack before the enemy scouts did the same to our fleets. The difference today is long range, very sensitive AESA synthetic appurture look down radars that can not only spot and track the enemy fleet but can also spot and track the enemy’s incoming anti-ship cruise missiles to provide early warning and to take advantage of our longer ranged anti-missile missiles like SM-2.

    • LazyFlyBall

      Yet we’re not building out Flight III Destroyers with any significant hangar space or aviation fuel increases that I’m aware of? This isn’t even a new idea for the Navy, they recently doubled down on E2-Ds, they get off-board sensing and early warning. And yet they have Fire Scout now, and better VTOL drones in the pipeline, that will soon be able to mimic an E2-D in a much smaller unmanned package — but what hangar space are they going to go in?

      LCS may suck, but it –has deployed– with 2 Fire Scouts and one MH-60. The big question is, if ship-borne drones look this important, why aren’t we building the (rest of the) surface fleet for them?

  • Duane

    These machines, frequently confused with the older and smaller B model, bring a lot more capability to the fleet. The MQ-8C has nearly double the flight endurance of the B model (15 hrs vs. 8 hrs), and the nearly 3,000 pound payload enables carrying much larger weapons as they are integrated onto the platform. Expect to see the Mk 54 lightweight torpedo get integrated for ASW. Other large weapons that could be carried by the MQ-8C include Naval Strike Missile and its land attack variant, the Joint Strike Missile; various glide bombs such as SDB II and JDAMs; and RIM 116 anti-ASCM missile and its cousin AIM-9X for air to air work. Plus the smaller weaps already deployable by the MQ-8B such as Hellfire missiles and 2.75 in. guided rockets (APKWS).

    Besides weapons, the MQ-8C can carry special purpose sensors in addition to its standard suite of AESA synthetic appurture radar and imaging FLIR, and could deploy ECM pods and physical countermeasures to splash salvos of incoming ASCMs at long ranges from the LCS. Plus dipping sonar sono buoys, and a laser designator.

  • Kypros

    Are these going to be new builds or converted from existing stocks of Bell 407s?

  • NavySubNuke

    Great – glad to see this testing is still going on despite the inability of LCS to actually deploy this year.
    This new helo certainly brings an interesting capability to the fleet and that capability will continue to grow during the coming years as testing and integration of new payloads (including weapons in the early 2020s) continues.
    I wonder how much longer we will have to wait for an autonomous flight capability that will allow this to operate in EMCON conditions without direct operator intervention and if such a mode of operations is even possible in a GPS denied environment. Should be fun to find out!

    • Secundius

      But it still has to be able to Communicate with the Mother Ship and/or any other Support Ship. As a place to Refuel, Rearm and/or Resupply from…

      • NavySubNuke

        Certainly.

    • Duane

      It is a lie to say that LCS cannot deploy this year, and you know it, troll.

      The LCS have higher priorities at the moment than forward deployment, including the testing described in this post, and crew training as described in other USNI posts earlier this year.

      You spin more and worse than Baghdad Bob, a Putin spokesman, or a Kim flunky.

      • NavySubNuke

        There you go accusing me of being a troll and liar again — you really do need to be careful about projecting your own failings onto others.
        Here you go though since you obviously missed it the first time:
        From USNI News dated 11 April 2018:
        “The Navy may not deploy any of its Littoral Combat Ships this year despite previous plans to deploy one to the Middle East and two to Singapore in 2018, due to a confluence of maintenance availabilities that has most of the LCS fleet sidelined this year.
        Three of the Navy’s four original LCSs are in maintenance now, and four of the eight block-buy ships that have commissioned already are undergoing their initial Post Shakedown Availabilities (PSA), Cmdr. John Perkins, spokesman for Naval Surface Force Pacific, told USNI News.
        In addition to the deploying ships themselves being in maintenance, so too are the training ships that will be required to help train and certify the crews.”
        Nice try though Duaney.

  • William Sager

    The Fire Scout concept is sound. But instead of grabbing a conventional helicopter and remove the people we should scale up electric drones which require far less maintenance and can be flown by the ships computers if need be.

    • Secundius

      There already was one, the Gryodyne QH-50 DASH. It was a Multiple FM Band Remote Controlled Helicopter that kept on Crashing into the Sea, once the Drone Helicopter flew past the Visual Horizon and Lost Contact with the Ship. Once contact was lost, Drone had noway of communicating back to the ship and flew on until fuel supply ran out and crashed. The Kamen K-Max has been in service since at least 2003…

  • RunningBear

    The 20,000 ft. service ceiling of the MQ-8C will provide radar surveillance out to 200 miles for the Leonardo Osprey MM AESA radar system. NG is adding the Osprey radar and is under contract to complete the work by May 2020. The Osprey radar provides land/ sea surveillance SAR/ISAR modes with wide-swath high-resolution ground mapping, small and low-speed
    ground target indication, air-to-air surveillance, tracking, and
    intercept. The MQ-8C is equipped with the Link 16 is an encrypted nodeless tactical digital data link network. The Minotaur Track Management and Mission Management system that collates
    data from several different sensors; AN/AAQ-22D Bright Star II EO/IR, Osprey radar, etc. to provide a unified target picture as on the P-8A.

  • David Ball

    When are they going integrate the mast mounted sensors and weapons pylons from the OH-58D??? This seems to me to be a better plan.. Instead of giving these away with the basic OH-58.

    • Secundius

      For what reason? How would a Mast Sensor for Hiding amongst the Trees serve an Aerial Platform operating at Sea! What would IT be hiding from…

      • David Ball

        Just where is the dome??? Oh on the nose of which you would have to get above the wave tops in order to see on the senors.. Making the aircraft more visible to just about anyone with a radar.. .. Just like the reason for the mast on the OH-58 to sneak up on some one..

        • Secundius

          I don’t recall seeing a Lot of if any TREE’S standing Out in Plan Sight in the Middle of the Ocean. Maybe you can name One or Two Known Forests protruding from the Ocean…

          • David Ball

            They are what you would find on something called islands, near something called the beach… You know those things that the LCS was to get in close to, instead of full sized fleet units called DDG…

          • Secundius

            Their going to Deploy Drone Helicopters missions that they won’t send a Manned Helicopter to do. What need would a Drone require that involves the need to Hide and from whom. The MQ-9C FireScout “Isn’t” a Stealth Helicopter, it’s expendable. As soon a it leaves the Ship, Every Radar system within 200-miles is going to know it’s in the air…