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US to send unmanned helicopters into combat

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The pilotless helicopters can detect and localize mines and obstacles on land and at sea (U.S. Navy via SWNS)

By Dean Murray via SWNS

The United States plans to send unmanned, mine-seeking helicopters into combat.

The U.S. Navy is to integrate a mine countermeasures system onto its Fire Scout drone: a pilotless helicopter able to detect and localize mines and obstacles on land and at sea.

The Fire Scout program office, in conjunction with several Navy bodies, are preparing to execute the final phase of the Single System Multi-Mission Airborne Mine Detection (SMAMD) demonstration.

This will see the first mine countermeasure system flown onboard the aircraft, as well as the airframe’s heaviest payload carried to date.

The MQ-8 Fire Scout, with mass shapes attached to mimic the size and weight of the SMAMD System, has conducted low airspeed flying qualities testing in February 2022 at Webster Field, Maryland.

An MQ-8C Fire Scout attached to the “Sea Knights” of Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron. (U.S. Navy via SWNS)

The SMAMD system, developed by BAE Systems, utilizes an airborne optical sensor suite that will have the ability to have real-time onboard processing coupled with low false alarm rates will enable the warfighter to respond swiftly to detected threats.

Current MCM technologies require post-mission analysis that lengthens the threat detection and mitigation timeline.

“This capability is extremely important as we see future fights occurring in the littoral waters where mine warfare is prevalent,” said Capt. Thomas Lansley, Fire Scout program director.

“A mine warfare capability will greatly reduce risk for LCS and other vessels in the littoral.”

This spring, the joint team will hold a land-based demonstration of the MCM prototype at the Naval Surface Warfare Center in Panama City, Florida.

The MQ-8 Fire Scout, testing, February 2022 at Webster Field, Maryland (U.S Navy)

The demo will stretch from the beach zone, drifting mines and moored mines both in shallow water and deep water up to 6.2 miles (ten kilometers) offshore. The objective of the demonstration is to gather performance data for both the MQ-8C Fire Scout and SMAMD to inform future integration efforts.

The SMAMD will prove that a podded MCM system can operate as intended on the MQ-8C without causing adverse effects to the UAV or significantly diminishing time on station.

“The program office will continue to gather information to inform future integration efforts of the COBRA Block II System onto the MQ-8C,” said Lansley.

The MQ-8C Fire Scout is currently deployed aboard USS Milwaukee to support operations in the U.S. 4th Fleet area of responsibility.

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