The US Navy is in the final phase of developing a new mine countermeasure (MCM) sensor suite for the MQ-8C Fire Scout autonomous helicopter.
The BAE Systems Single System Multi-Mission Airborne Mine Detection (SMAMD) uses an airborne optical sensor suite to “detect and localize obstacles on land and at sea in real-time,” unlike present systems that require post-mission analysis.
Important for Littoral Waters
Fire Scout program director Capt. Thomas Lansley said, “This capability is extremely important as we see future fights occurring in the littoral waters where mine warfare is prevalent.”
“A mine warfare capability will greatly reduce the risk for LCS (littoral combat ship) and other vessels in the littoral.”
To assess the aircraft’s air performance and safety while carrying the MCM system, the navy flew an SMAMD decoy of similar mass and weight onboard the helicopter last month.
In the next stage, a team of assessors will hold a “land-based demonstration of the MCM prototype at the Naval Surface Warfare Center in Panama City, Florida,” in the spring.
“The demo will stretch from the beach zone, drifting mines and moored mines both in shallow water and deep water up to 10 kilometers (6.2 miles) offshore.”
The data gathered from the assessment will help the navy in the future integration of the COBRA Block II mine detection system onto the MQ-8C.
The navy operationally deployed the Northrop Grumman MQ-8C aboard the USS Milwaukee in January. The aircraft is an upgrade of the MQ-8B unmanned helicopter serving US Navy Littoral Combat Ships in the 5th and 7th Fleets.
The aircraft’s range of 1,000 nautical miles and flight endurance of 10 hours are ten and three times the respective strengths of its predecessor, providing a significant “leap in intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance, and real-time, over-the-horizon targeting capability.”