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US Navy, Marines test manned-unmanned teaming for helicopter strikes

MUM-T helicopter strike coordination
An AH-1Z Viper and an MQ-8C Fire Scout unmanned helicopter conduct strike coordination and reconnaissance training near El Centro, California, March 10, 2022. Photo:

US Marine Corps and the US Navy teamed up recently to test the use of manned-unmanned teaming technology to coordinate helicopter strikes.

Marines from Marine Operational Test and Evaluation Squadron One (VMX-1) and sailors from Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron 23 (HSC-23) carried out the tactics development exercise at Naval Air Facility El Centro, California on March 10, 2022.

During the exercise, VMX-1’s UH-1Y Venom and AH-1Z Viper attack helicopters conducted attacks while marines and sailors operating in the ground control station assisted with the target detection and strike coordination utilizing a MQ-8C Fire Scout unmanned helicopter.

“This opportunity promotes greater familiarization and concept development of the manned-unmanned teaming that builds confidence and efficiency throughout the Blue-Green Team,” said VMX-1 Commanding Officer Col. Byron Sullivan. “Our partnership plays an integral part of the Commandant and [Chief of Naval Operation]’s vision to embrace the future of warfare and turn it into our advantage on the battlefield.”

A US Marine Corps release said that, as the exercise in El Centro progressed, the Navy-Marine Corps team became more proficient in planning, communicating, and coordinating effective fires from manned and unmanned rotary-wing aircraft.

The proliferation of unmanned rotary wing platforms on US Navy ships makes integration with Marine rotary wing and the MQ-8C a likelihood in the littoral environment.

“Adversaries are going to be placed on the horns of a dilemma as we strengthen our naval expeditionary force in leveraging unmanned systems to complement our rotary wing,” said VMX-1 Science and Technology lead Maj. Ben Henry.

The mission of VMX-1 is to conduct operational test and evaluation of Marine Corps aviation platforms and systems.