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Unmanned systems have become a frequent tool in dangerous sea mine-hunting missions. Now, a modified version of the MQ-8C Fire Scout unmanned helicopter has successfully completed an automated sea mine-hunting demonstration.
The demo included coordination with a small robotic surface ship and unmanned submersible. The demo took place at the US Navy’s Advanced Naval Technology (ANTX) exercise in August.
The Northrop Grumman’s MQ-8C Fire Scout served as a communications relay and situational awareness platform for the surface ship and submersible, which were hunting and relaying information about the locations of sea mines.
Due to Federal Aviation Administration restrictions, the Fire Scout was manned and piloted. The pilot flew the helicopter based on waypoint instructions from the aircraft’s automated system. The rest of the aircraft, including mission systems and sensors, where operated completely autonomously, according to flightglobal.com.
The Fire Scout is a Bell 407 commercial helicopter that is stripped down, stuffed with extra fuel tanks and equipped with a phalanx of sensors. The aircraft is larger and has double the endurance of its predecessor, the MQ-8B.
In addition to the goal of showing that the UAV could help with the dangerous mission of mine sweeping, the demonstration was also aimed at improving human-machine teaming, while reducing manpower. Alan Lytle, Northrop vice-president for undersea systems, said: “There are certain missions where you can’t send people and this [UAV] opens up opportunities for the navy.”
Northrop executives say they do not know when the US Navy might begin using the Fire Scout for sea mine-hunting missions, noting that the exercise was for demonstration purposes. The service has yet to commit to using the UAV for this application.