The U.S. Navy Turned Its Drone Helicopter Into a Mine-Detector
Mine-hunting robot could benefit Littoral Combat Ships
The U.S. Navy’s helicopter-like Fire Scout drone can now operate an advanced sensor giving it increased ability to detect and destroy mines and submarines from a Littoral Combat Ship, service officials said.
The new sensor, designed for combat and surveillance missions in littoral waters, is called the Coastal Battlefield Reconnaissance and Analysis, or COBRA. The technology has formally achieved its initial operational capability, and its primary function is detecting mines and submarines while keeping the small and lightly-armed LCS and its crew at a safe distance.
Given that the Navy’s Littoral Combat Ship is engineered to use its shallow draft, speed and maneuverability to conduct combat operations near coastlines, having mine- and submarine-hunting technologies expands the vessel’s mission envelope and provides needed protection for offensive ship operations.
“COBRA represents a real step forward for tactical reconnaissance of beach areas,” Melissa Kirkendall of Naval Sea Systems Command said in a written statement. “With COBRA, the Navy/Marine Corps team can quickly look at a possible landing zone and detect mines and obstacles that would inhibit landing force mobility during an assault.”
Previously, such reconnaissance was only possible by putting sailors or Marines on the beach in advance of a landing, exposing them to casualties and revealing an intended landing zone, the service statement said.
Having a small helicopter detachment able to launch and land off the back of the LCS is a key part of the Navy’s emerging strategy for surface, counter-mine and anti-submarine warfare.
According to Navy statements, COBRA’s next test will be an underway period on board an LCS equipped with a full mine countermeasures mission package, including an MH-60S Sea Hawk helicopter with a 23-person aviation detachment. During the at-sea trial, COBRA will fly various missions over beaches, while demonstrating system suitability for operating from the LCS.
The Fire Scout has been deploying and conducting training missions on board Navy Littoral Combat Ships for several years.
The Navy is also integrating a new maritime search radar to its larger Fire Scout variant — the MQ-8C — to extend its ISR capacity and provide better targeting support to nearby offensive operations.
The existing electro-optical and infrared cameras on the Fire Scout have a range of six-to-10 miles, whereas the new maritime radar can find targets at ranges out to 80 nautical miles, service officials explained.
The Navy has been working closely with Northrop Grumman to integrate a maritime radar onto the platform to provide increased situational awareness for surface combatant ships, service developers told Scout Warrior.
The Fire Scout is engineered to work in tandem with MH-60R helicopters to identify and destroy targets as part of a maritime strike squadron.
The helicopter and unmanned aircraft system, working with one another, are designed to extend the range of the shallow-water LCS. They provide ISR, targeting and threat-detection technologies miles away from the ship and its crew, using a data link to send information back to a control station on-board the ship.
The helicopter squadron provides a persistent over-watch for shipping traffic, threats and potential targets. Once something of concern it discovered, the Fire Scout can provide persistent surveillance capability to the ship and to the squadron, service developers explained.
Various training exercises have consisted of launches, recoveries, mock firefighting scenarios and visit board search and seizure operations.
The 31-foot long Fire Scout can fly at airspeeds up to 110 knots and reach altitudes of 20,000 feet; the aircraft weighs 3,150 pounds at its maximum take-off weight and is powered by one Rolls-Royce heavy fuel turboshaft engine, Navy officials said.
The Fire Scout has an electro-optical/ infrared sensor called Bright Star 2, which has laser range-finding and laser designation, Navy developers said.
The MQ-8B Fire Scout can stay up on a mission for up to five hours and also uses Automatic Identification System, or AIS, technology to help locate and identify ships.
The Navy currently has more than 20 MQ-8B Fire Scouts in the inventory.
Also, in recent years, the Navy has armed the Fire Scout with laser-guided precision rockets as part of an assessment for future integration. The weapons tested on the Fire Scout laser-guided 2.75-inch, folding-fin rockets called the Advanced Kill Precision Weapons System, or APKWS.
Using laser guidance to paint and pinpoint targets for the Fire Scout, APKWS was able to conduct successful land-based test firings, Navy weapons and drone developers said.
This article originally appeared at Scout Warrior.