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US Navy-Marine Corps completes manned-unmanned rotary-wing teaming

A US Marine Corps Bell AH-1Z attack helicopter seen operating in tandem with a US Navy MQ-8C unmanned helicopter. (US DoD)

US Marine Corps (USMC) and US Navy (USN) aviation have completed a groundbreaking manned-unmanned tactical experiment, pairing Bell UH-1Y Venom and AH-1Z helicopters with a Northrop Grumman MQ-8C Fire Scout unmanned air system (UAS).

Undertaken on 10 March at Naval Air Facility El Centro, California, the exercise was designed to provide familiarisation and concept development of manned and unmanned rotary-wing aircraft in a realistic setting.

During a strike co-ordination and reconnaissance training exercise, UH-1Y utility and AH-1Z attack helicopters from Marine Operational Test and Evaluation Squadron One (VMX-1) – the USMC's operational test and evaluation squadron – were tasked to conduct attacks. Under the manned-unmanned teaming construct, marines and sailors operating in a ground control station supported target detection and strike co-ordination using an MQ-8C Fire Scout UAS from Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron 23 (HSC-23).

Tactical development advanced as the exercise in El Centro progressed, said the USMC, with the result that “the navy-marine corps team became more proficient in planning, communicating, and co-ordinating effective fires from manned and unmanned rotary-wing aircraft”.

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