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MQ-8C Fire Scout on maiden USN deployment

The US Navy has declared the MQ-8C unmanned helicopter to be operationally ready, commencing its first shipborne deployment in December 2021. (Northrop Grumman)

The US Navy (USN) has commenced a first shipborne deployment of the MQ-8C Fire Scout unmanned aerial system (UAS), the service revealed on 24 January.

Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron 22, Detachment 5 (HSC-22 DET 5) was deployed operationally from the Freedom-variant Littoral Combat Ship USS Milwaukee (LCS-5) on 14 December 2021. Milwaukee is supporting operations in the US 4th Fleet area of responsibility.

Developed by Northrop Grumman, the MQ-8 Fire Scout vertical take-off and landing UAS is designed to provide situational awareness and real-time intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance (ISR), and targeting capabilities. The MQ-8C variant marries the existing Fire Scout UAS architecture (developed for the legacy MQ-8B air vehicle) with the Bell 407 rotorcraft to create an autonomous four-bladed, single-engine, unmanned helicopter. The larger air vehicle provides extended endurance (over 10 hours on station with a 300 lb payload), range (150 n miles), and greater payload capability (over 700 lb).

The MQ-8C sensor suite includes a FLIR Systems AN/AAQ-22D BRITE Star II electro-optical/infrared and laser rangefinding/target designation turret, and the Leonardo AN/ZPY-8 Osprey 30 active electronically scanned array radar. The AN/ZPY-8 is a multimode radar, which provides long-range, all-weather detection, tracking, and radar imaging capabilities to support situational awareness, over-the-horizon targeting, and ISR over land.

HSC-22 DET 5 is employing the MQ-8C and an embarked MH-60S helicopter to conduct counter-narcotics operations during Milwaukee's current deployment. According to the navy, 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”.

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