US Navy Tests Drone Helicopter with Seahawk
Chopper, Manned and Unmanned Teaming. The US Navy took a step toward integrating
unmanned aircraft into its naval aviation operations in late June as the MQ-8C Fire
Scout successfully completed its initial round of testing.
“Results from this [Initial Operational Test and Evaluation] will inform decision-makers
on how to best integrate the Navy’s newest unmanned helicopter with littoral combat ships
and other platforms,” the US Navy said in a July 9 announcement.
The drone chopper completed testing from the deck of the littoral combat ship USS Coronado
in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of California, The Fire Scout was tested to see if it could
perform joint missions with manned aircraft, specifically the Navy’s MH-60S Seahawk helicopter.
“Results confirmed that while it requires extensive planning and coordination across
the ship, simultaneous operations can be conducted,” the Navy said.
The next steps for the Fire Scout include pierside testing with “a focus on maintenance
and cyber,” the Navy noted. The Fire Scout completed its first flight
from onboard a naval vessel in 2014, with “underway testing” carried out in April 2017
in conjunction with the USS Montgomery, which is similar to the USS Coronado in that they
are both littoral combat ships. One of the other major developments in unmanned
naval aviation in the US military is that of the MQ-25A Stingray, a carrier-based unmanned
refueling tanker. The Stingray program evolved out of the Unmanned
Carrier-Launched Airborne Surveillance and Strike (UCLASS) program. Following internal
discussions about whether the Navy should tailor the MQ-25A Stingray aircraft more toward
bombing or scouting, the Pentagon decided to do neither. “What you’re going to see is
not a unmanned naval aviation anymore; It’s a carrier-based tanker that is going to be
integrated into the carrier air wing,” a defense official told Breaking Defense in 2016.
That decision led to the conclusion that, without an unmanned strike aircraft taking
off from carriers, the Navy would need to procure more F-35C aircraft, the fifth-generation
jet variant designed to take off from carriers, as well as more modernized F/A-18 Super Hornets.
“We decided to accelerate F-35C buys,” the official told. (The Pentagon later clarified
that the MQ-25A Stingray will have “limited strike” capability.)
Perhaps it is a mere coincidence, but a recent fly off between the A-10 Warthog and US Air
Force variant F-35A aimed at learning which aircraft is better at close air support missions
was reportedly rigged to make the F-35 look better at this type of mission than it really
is, thus justifying more purchases of the F-35 moving forward.
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