The US Navy’s upgraded MQ-8C Fire Scout is deployed for the first time, operating from aboard USS Milwaukee (LCS-5) in the US 4th Fleet area of responsibility.
USS Milwaukee became the first ship of its class to deploy with the new capability as it got underway for its deployment on December 14, 2021.
“We are very excited to bring this enhanced capability out to the fleet,” said Capt. Eric Soderberg, MQ-8 Fire Scout program manager.
“The transition from the MQ-8B to the MQ-8C Fire Scout has brought improved sensors and more than doubles the on-station endurance. Advances in Fire Scout’s capabilities further our successful integration of unmanned platforms at sea and the Navy and Marine Corps unmanned campaign plan.”
The latest variant, MQ-8C, has a greater payload and endurance than its predecessor and is equipped with the Leonardo Osprey AN/ZPY-8 radar that significantly increases Fire Scout’s ability to identify, detect and track targets. The upgraded radar allows for a larger field of view and range of digital modes.
The Fire Scout is the Navy’s only unmanned helicopter, based on the Bell 407 single-engine helicopter. It is designed to deliver real-time intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance and targeting (ISR&T) capabilities. It brings increased situational awareness to the fleet in distributed maritime operations, extending the ship’s sensors range and endurance.
While underway, Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron (HSC) 22, Detachment 5 will employ Fire Scout and an embarked MH-60S to conduct counter-narcotics operations. Fire Scout will identify targets of interest and refine surveillance data of existing targets of interest, allowing for enhanced capabilities for counter illicit drug trafficking missions.
In addition to operations with the littoral combat ships, the Fire Scout has been tested for operations aboard the expeditionary sea base ships, having completed dynamic interface testing on USS Hershel “Woody” Williams in 2020.
MQ-8C achieved initial operational capability in June 2019 and is set to start another deployment later this year, when it will be headed for the Western Pacific.