Northrop Grumman Tests MQ-8C Expeditionary Controls for Marine and Naval Missions

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Air Test and Evaluation Squadron 1 (VX-1) officials analyze the diagnostics of the MQ-8C Fire Scout on the flight deck of the Independence variant littoral combat ship USS Coronado (LCS 4) on June 21, 2018 US Navy photo

Northrop Grumman is testing a portable expeditionary control station that could help Sailors and Marines operate the Navy’s unmanned helicopter both at sea and ashore.

The contractor is currently testing his Expeditionary Mission Control Station (MCS-X) on the Navy’s MQ-8C Fire Scout, Lance Eischeid, Northrop Grumman’s program director for Fire Scout, told USNI News.

“We also have a control station that we have developed which is an expeditionary control station, which allows it to be packaged and unloaded on other ships or taken ashore – on an island, if you will. , and lets you operate Fire Scout not just from a single ship. You can move it anywhere you want, “he added.” So that’s really reflected in their distributed maritime operations and in these sets. expeditionary type missions, and we’re piloting that right now – flying with this control station on a test site now and maturing it to be ready for operations for years to come.

This type of mobile control station would allow Sailors and Marines to easily take the system apart and take it with them when needed.

“It takes all of the functionality of the current Fire Scout control system – which is usually found in a CONEX box or it’s hard-mounted in the ship – and repackages it in small portable boxes, rugged boxes, which can be quickly installed. demolished and really set up in various places, ”Eischeid said.

Northrop recently confirmed that the MQ-8C could be installed aboard the amphibious transport dock USS Anchoring (LPD-23). During the adjustment, I checked what kind of communications equipment he would need to use the MCS-X with the amphibious ship.

“When we met the ship it was clear that they wanted organic [intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance] capabilities, which we currently have. We can give them that today. So that would definitely be a big help for this class. But as they reach weapons and surface missiles. . . Fire Scout can also play a key role in these targeting missions, ”Eischeid told USNI News, referring to LPDs.

Officials discussed the possibility of placing missile launchers on LPDs, which were not built with vertical launch system cells. Placing the naval strike missile on LPDs was offered as an option, but former Chief of the Naval Operations Staff (OPNAV N95) Chief of Staff’s Expeditionary War Director Major General Tracy King earlier suggested this year that could be difficult to continue because the Navy is putting NSMs on littoral combat ships.

The mobility of the control station could also align with the Marine Corps’ vision for Forward Expeditionary Base Operations (EABO), which would see Marines move between islands in the Pacific to support the naval fleet.

“It depends on the needs. We’ll have to work with the Marines on their specific needs, but I would say we are – the fact that we’re already flying with, we’d just need to tailor their specific needs. I would say that we are in the final stages of being able to provide full capability, ”said Eischeid when asked about a potential timeline for delivering that capability to the Marine Corps if the service so wished.

The MQ-8C is larger than its predecessor, the MQ-8B, which operates from Navy Littoral combat ships and has been used on both frigates and destroyers. Eischeid said the C variant almost tripled the payload capacity compared to the B and also has a higher endurance level.

“It has newer components and the design has higher reliability, so from that point of view, it offers these additional benefits. Because we are now putting a newer radar system into it compared to the B – so it’s going to have a better and more capable radar system that will be deployed with it here shortly, ”he said. “It also operates a system called Minotaur, which is used by a number of Navy platforms for the command and control of different sensors. So those are the current benefits, but we certainly have a number of other payloads and new capabilities in the pipeline that we are actively working on that will bring even more capabilities to it.

An MQ-8C Fire Scout passes the initial fit check aboard the USS Anchorage (LPD-23) at Naval Station San Diego, Calif., May 24, 2021. Northrop Grumman Photo

The new radar system is Leonardo’s Osprey 30 Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radar and the UAV will also feature the Link 16 data link, USNI News previously reported.

In addition to the new systems, the MQ-8C variant will have a new interface for its control station

“It’s an improved interface – a little bit more – easier to use and user-friendly, if you will. And it has commonalities with other Navy systems, ”Eischeid said, noting that the interface is also used on the P-8A Poseidon maritime patrol aircraft.

USNI News previously reported that Northrop offered the MQ-8C as an option for the Navy to conduct anti-submarine warfare missions.

Meanwhile, the service is still looking for a way forward for UAVs after abandoning its initial plans to rapidly expand the Marine Air-Ground Task Force (MAGTF) ​​Expeditionary Unmanned Aerial System (UAS) program, or MUX.

“I can’t speak for the Marines except I think we can definitely support these sets of missions, you certainly know with the [electronic support measures] system that we are putting in place that will support early warning and targeting capabilities, ”Eischeid said when asked if the MQ-8C could help meet the Marine Corps’ desire for airborne early warning capabilities . “So certainly I think we are in a good position to support these missions. Absoutely.”

The MQ-8C is expected to deploy for the first time later this year.


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