[Defense in Brief] Navy’s Fire Scout unmanned helo key to enhanced lethality

The U.S. Navy’s MQ-8C Fire Scout unmanned aerial vehicles are set to receive a new datalink and radar to serve as a forward spotter for the various fleets, thereby enhancing lethality.

The Northrop Grumman-built UAV is set to be upgraded with a Leonardo Osprey 30 Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radar and the Link 16 datalink.

The combination is expected to give the Fire Scout the ability to distribute air-to-air surface targeting info to surface ships.

“You’ve seen a good body of literature coming out of the Navy describing distributed maritime operations and how they view that: a lot of different ships spread out over very broad ocean areas. And having the Fire Scout with Link 16 as part of that formation of ships is a key enabler to that capability and requires no additional modification to any of the other platforms,” said Jack Thomas, director of Tactical Autonomous Systems Mission Engineering at Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems.

“Putting it aboard Fire Scout is really going to shorten the cycle from cue throughout the mission if you were engaging anti-surface warfare [targets]. We certainly see Fire Scout as the long-range, high-endurance sensor that does the detecting and identification that will shorten that cycle from initial detection through to managing that track where we see the incorporation of Link 16 into that program,” he added.

The additions are designed to provide U.S. Navy surface warfare groups distant targeting information that goes well beyond surface ship capabilities, but still within range of the ship’s weapons systems. [source(Analyst comment: As new longer-range enemy ballistic missiles and other weapons become operational, the Navy must continue to develop stand-off capabilities and strategies in order to ensure warship survivability — especially for aircraft carriers. Drones will be a big part of that strategy.)

Jon E. Dougherty is a political, foreign policy and national security analyst and reporter with nearly 30 years of experience in both fields. A U.S. Army veteran of Operation Enduring Freedom, he holds BA in Political Science from Ashford University and an MA in National Security Studies/Intelligence Analysis from American Military University.

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