Larger Firescout UAS. Too Big for the Coast Guard?

For quite some time the Coast Guard has been planning on putting helicopter like Unmanned Aerial Systems on their ships. Interest has centered on the Navy’s MQ-8B Firescout. I suspect the hangar designs for the National Security Cutters and Offshore Patrol Cutters were based in part on the size of the MQ-8B.

File:US Navy 100514-N-0000X-001 Civilian artisans from Fleet Readiness Center East perform maintenance and corrosion assessments .jpg

United States Navy photo with the ID 100514-N-0000X-001, MQ-8B (smaller UAS) undergoing maintenance

Now DefenseNews is reporting the Navy is announcing they will stop production of the 3,150 pound max gross weight “B” model and go to a much larger 6,000 pound max gross weight “C” model based on the Bell 407 Jet Ranger. This aircraft is not only approaches the size of the H-65, it is actually longer.

File:PHI Bell 407.jpg

Bell 407 Jet Ranger, photo from Gerry Metzler, IMG_383

The larger MQ-8C certainly offers advantages over the smaller “B” model, including the ability to maintaining 24/7 surveillance with only three flights a day. The Navy believes they will be able to deploy three on their frigates and two in addition to an H-60 on the LCSs. The NSCs probably have adequate space, but it is unclear if the space provided for in the specifications for the Offshore Patrol Cutters will allow them the emulate the LCSs’ aviation facilities or if they will be able to carry even one of these larger UAS in addition to a manned helicopter.

39 thoughts on “Larger Firescout UAS. Too Big for the Coast Guard?

  1. IF current and future cutters can take the larger Charile UAV then, the USN may have some old birds to cast off? Which probably nothing new for the Coast Guard.

    OTOH the Bravos may be good enough and acquisition cost will be low.

    BTW I has a discussion with naval aviator with combat experience, and he thought that a SeaHawk plus FireScout air det was probably a good concept

  2. Note it says “based on” the Bell 407. That could just mean using it’s engine and transmission. It doesn’t necessarily mean just putting remote controls in a Bell 407 as the photo implies…

    • Honestly if the Fire scout is the same size of a regular helo, id rather have a Helo than a UAV. its more versatile.

      • Earlier Firescout (MQ-8B) was significantly smaller and the idea was that we could have both a conventional helicopter and a UAV. The UAV would have more loiter time than the helicopter. The larger version of the Firescout (MQ-8C) is literally an unmanned full size helicopter and I have been concerned that the larger size might preclude having both on board. Looks like the program is in limbo.

  3. The MQ-8B is 24′ x 27.5′ x 10′ & 2100-lbs (empty).  That’s not exactly small, but is definitely smaller than an H-60 footprint.  I wonder if on the NSC or OPC an MQ-8B AND an H-60 could be accommodated simultaneously?  I’m betting not.  The MQ-8B has a range of 110nmi for 8-hrs w/ 170-lb payload or 5-hrs w/ 600-lb payload.

    This appears to be the performance envelope the CG is looking for in its desired UAV.  The CG could still get some B-models as hand-me-downs from the Navy as the C-version replaces it.  The Navy has a couple dozen in service.  They could be rotated out of an operational pool, probably one each on East & West coasts.

    Interestingly, I ran across mention of DARPA’s TERN Program ( http://www.darpa.mil/NewsEvents/Releases/2013/03/01.aspx ).  This is aiming right up the alley of what the CG is looking for (moderate-capability UAV on small —DARPA uses the term “frigate,” but the LCS is included— ship).  It looks like DARPA is thinking even more payload and endurance (11-hrs).  I also found a connection between the TERN program and Boeing’s A160T:  http://www.boeing.com/boeing/bds/phantom_works/hummingbird.page .  

    Combine these developments with the MQ-8C growing to a 407-sized helo, and it looks to me like everyone is wanting a larger and larger UAV for the sake of payload and endurance, which leaves the CG out in the cold a bit with the size restrictions of the Cutters.

    I wonder what the CG really would use the UAV for?  Probably not rescue hoisting.  More (but still un-) likely would be delivering dewatering pumps or liferafts/survival suits.  No, it appears to me 95+% of the CG’s need for a UAV is surveillance or the very similar mission of the search half of SAR.  That means decent cameras and telemetry.

    With the space available on cutters, especially the OPC, I think the CG should be looking at an updated (possibly an even smaller) RQ-2.  The RQ-2 is 14′ x 17′ x 3.3′ & 452-lbs.  Range is 100nmi for 5-hrs w/ 72-lb payload.  That’s as good as the MQ-8B, if the optics package is all the payload the CG needs.  This is a very mature system to build a follow-on system off of.  It has already been sea-based (on the BBs back in the 90s).  

    With the application of 20+ years of technological advancements, I’d bet they could make it smaller and with a capture system which would work on Cutters.  In fact, the RQ-2’s maker, AAI, bought Aerosonde and they flew a smaller surveillance UAV off the M80 Stilleto in 2006.  http://www.aerosonde.com/pdfs/aerosonde-mark-47.pdf .  

    The rocket-assisted launch could be replaced with a pneumatic system.  AAI, already has just such a system on their very successful RQ-7 land-based system.  In fact, the RQ-7 can be viewed as an RQ-2 updated from 1985-technology to 2000-technology, but still about the same size.

    The real game-changer for the CG could be AAI’s experiments with putting a Carter rotor atop an RQ-7, as that would give it VTOL, so no launch or recovery complications at all.  That, or some technological update and combination of the RQ-2/7 family and the Aerosonde Mk. 4.7.

  4. I do believe the NSCs were intended to operate both a helo and a UAV. They are certainly large enough. Same for the OPCs, but the OPV envisioned may not have been as large as a second helicopter like the MQ-8C. The ships are beamier than the FFGs which had double H-60 hangars, so there is no reason they should not be able to accommodate two smaller aircraft, eg, an H-65 and a UAV.

    I did mention DARPA’s TERN program before, but their intention is for the UAV to do strike as well as ISR and at distances up to 900 miles.
    https://chuckhillscgblog.net/2013/09/04/darpa-program-to-develop-long-range-uavs-for-launch-from-small-ships/

    I agree the Coast Guard’s reason for interest in UAVs is primarily in the Search phase of law enforcement and possibly SAR. The Coast Guard has been insistent that they need a radar capability. It looks like it may be possible to incorporate that capability in something as small as the Scan Eagle which also has excellent (up to 15 hour)endurance if relatively modest speed. https://chuckhillscgblog.net/2011/04/01/uavs-lets-try-this-one/

    • While I agree the intention was there -it was written into the specifications- and the NSC is beamy-enough, they did not put a double hangar on them. This raises the question of whether there was ever an intent (or will be a future capability) to operate helos and UAVs off the same cutter during a deployment. I’m confident the space was set aside for a remote control station as well, but with no system in the works, I’m guessing enterprising crews will find another use for that space.

      None of the OPC animations or drawings show a double hangar either. Even if the second hangar was smaller, say 1/2 to 2/3, than a conventional hangar’s size, I could believe both systems were intended to be deployed, but as it is, I think the CG cutters will deploy with either a UAV or a helo, but not both. This is assuming a UAV system is purchased at all.

      the only other possibility is a micro- or mini-UAV such as your point about the Scan Eagle, Chuck. Having watched some videos from those, it appears there are some distinct limitations, but it would be the only footprint small enough to allow simultaneous deployment on the current and future cutters.

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  6. Here is a quick look at how the Navy is deploying detachments equipped with both the MH-60 and Firescout (in this case the smaller MQ-8B),

    “The aviation detachment includes three pilots, four aircrew, one senior chief and 16 maintainers. All will rotate out after four months. The two aircraft will remain deployed in what essentially amounts to an aviation crew swap.”

    http://www.defensenews.com/article/20141119/DEFREG02/311190046/Fire-Scout-Seahawk-Deploy-Together-First-Time

  7. According to the German Navy Blog, Marine Forum, “29 Sept.,
    Northrop Grumman is to build ten more MQ-8C Fire Scout intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance drones (UAV) for the US Navy, bringing the service’s total order to 29.”

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  10. A bit more info here on MQ-8B. http://www.defensenews.com/articles/us-navys-fire-scout-deployed-onboard-lcs-rotational-deployment-to-singapore

    “The deployment of the Coronado to Singapore last October marked the first time the MQ-8B with the Telephonics Corporation’s AN/ZPY-4(V)1 multimode radar has been involved in an LCS deployment, with previous LCS deployments to Singapore utilizing MQ-8Bs with only the FLIR Systems Brite Star II day/night Electro-Optical turret with a laser target designator fitted.

    “According to Naval Air Systems Command, the AN/ZPY-4 significantly expands the search area for the ship’s combat team with the ability to simultaneously track up to 150 targets and increase detection accuracy out to 70 nautical miles.”

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