SOUTH CHINA SEA (May 19, 2022) An MH-60S Sea Hawk and MQ-8C Fire Scout unmanned aerial vehicle, assigned to Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron (HSC) 23, conduct concurrent flight operations as a manned-unmanned team (MUM-T) while embarked on the Independence-variant littoral combat ship USS Jackson (LCS 6). Jackson, part of Destroyer Squadron (DESRON) 7, is on a rotational deployment, operating in the U.S. 7th Fleet area of operations to enhance interoperability with partners and serve as a ready-response force in support of a free and open Indo-Pacific region. (U.S. Navy photo by Lt. j.g. Alexandra Green)
The Navy League’s on-line magazine, Seapower, reports,
The USS Jackson, based in San Diego, deployed on July 11, 2021, to the Western Pacific for 15 months in support of the Oceania Maritime Security Initiative (OMSI). Both the ship’s Blue and Gold crews each participated in two on-hull patrols during the deployment, which took the LCS to the South China Sea and Oceania. The Jackson, with a Coast Guard law-enforcement detachment embarked, operated with the armed forces of Brunei, France, Germany, Indonesia, Thailand and Japan, and made port calls to several island nations including Palau, Tahiti and Fiji. The ship returned to its homeport on Oct. 15, 2022.
We did employ the manned/unmanned teaming tactic and concept with our aviation detachment from Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron 23 Detachment 6. We executed that approximately one dozen times and we saw over 100 hours of MQ-8C operations while deployed to the 7th Fleet area. While conducting those manned/unmanned teaming operations what we found was that having an unmanned aircraft that had many capable sensor payloads was really a force multiplier that we could use to develop our recognized air and maritime picture beyond the horizon while using the MH-60S to conduct positive identification of things that we detected with the MQ-8C.
Looks like USS Jackson was doing some useful work, but–
This was a 15 month deployment. 461 days by my calculations so, “over 100 hours of MQ-8C operations while deployed to the 7th Fleet area” does not really sound that impressive, not compared with the extended endurance we are told UAS can do (15 hours max for the MQ-8C). Does it mean they only launched 12 time in 15 months?
I think the Coast Guard can get about 100 hours flight out of a single H-65 in a typical 60 day patrol. We used to do two two hour flights a day with some regularity. I have not seen how much search time we are getting out of the Scan Eagles on the National Security Cutters, but it should be a lot more than that.
There was no indication that the Fire Scout was used for anything other than surface search,
While conducting those manned/unmanned teaming operations what we found was that having an unmanned aircraft that had many capable sensor payloads was really a force multiplier that we could use to develop our recognized air and maritime picture beyond the horizon while using the MH-60S to conduct positive identification of things that we detected with the MQ-8C.
Seapower also recently reported, “Navy to Consolidate Fire Scout UAVs on West Coast,” which indicated that of the three detachments currently operating MQ-8s, the LANTFLT detachment will be de-activated, while the one of two PACFLT Fire Scout detachments that still operates the “B” model will upgrade to the “C” model. The report went on to report, “Currently, there are no plans to expand Fire Scout operations to other helicopter sea combat (HSC) squadrons.”
That indicates to me, that the Navy is not all that enthusiastic about Fire Scout. Though they are certainly planning to continue to pursue unmanned systems. Presumably it has been a “learning experience,” but it does not look like Fire Scout, in its present form, will be a growing program.