U.S. Navy Public Affairs of the Littoral Combat Ship Squadron 1 reported that an autonomous helicopter has completed the first comprehensive Initial Operational Test and Evaluation (IOT&E). Results from the IOT&E will inform naval officials on how to integrate the Navy’s brand-new autonomous helicopter with the littoral combat ships (LCS) and other platforms.
According to the report by Lt.j.g. Caroline Zotti, the Northrop Grumman MQ-8C Fire Scout, a crewless helicopter developed for reconnaissance, situational awareness, aerial fire support and precision targeting support, performed a series of mission-oriented scenarios aboard the USS Coronado (LCS 4), an Independence-class stealth littoral combat ship, last month.
Aviation Machinist’s Mate 2nd Class Salvatore Green, left, and Aviation Electronics Technician 3rd Class Jake Price, prepare the MC-8C Fire Scout to launch from USS Coronado (LCS 4), June 21. (Source: U.S. Navy/Ensign Jalen Robinson)
During the IOT&E, the MQ-8C Fire Scout program demonstrated cohesion between the USS Coronado in several mission scenarios off the coast of Southern California. It provided LCS with extended over-the-horizon intelligence-gathering capabilities.
“The results, lessons learned, and recommendations reported on following this underway test period are absolutely invaluable to the future of the MQ-8C Fire Scout’s mission effectiveness and suitability to perform that mission,” said Lt. Cmdr. Seth Ervin, the lead for the VX-1 detachment aboard Coronado.
The VX-1, Air Test and Evaluation Squadron One, conducted simulated engagements to evaluate Fire Scout’s enemy target identification system, intelligence gathering capabilities, and surface warfare operations. The test focused on combining both MQ-8C Fire Scout and the Sikorsky MH-60 Seahawk for joint operations.
“It has been challenging and rewarding to be one of the first maintainers afforded the opportunity to take both aircraft aboard the ship. Working together, we made the overall product more functional and efficient for the fleet,” said Aviation Machinist’s Mate 2nd Class Salvatore Greene, a member of VX-1.
The report indicated the Fire Scout could see “technological and tactical improvements” ahead of a much broader deployment aboard LCS vessels.
“My crew is excited to build upon their past experiences operating with Fire Scout and continue to improve our proficiency as a war-fighting team,” said Cmdr. Lawrence Repass, the commanding officer of Coronado.
The MQ-8C airframe is based on the Bell 407, while avionics, electrical systems, and sensors were integrated into the aircraft — originally developed for the MQ-8B Fire Scout. The helicopter first flew in October 2013 and had since completed four years of testing.
The first ship-based flight of the MQ-8C Fire Scout occurred aboard USS Jason Dunham (DDG 109), an Arleigh Burke-class destroyer, in December 2014. Video: MQ-8C Fire Scout Takes First Flight on USS Jason Dunham:
While sailors are excited about this new autonomous technology, this could be problematic for helicopter pilots who not too long ago, were flying these machines. The next phase of automation and advances in robotics will create dramatic shifts in the transportation wing of the military.
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Karen Harris, Managing Director of Bain & Company’s Macro Trends Group, describes the coming shift of automation impact on employment from 2015 to 2030:
“The next phase of automation, based on machine learning, artificial intelligence and advances in robotics, will affect 80% of workers through wage suppression and job loss. If automation rolls out slowly, workers who lose their jobs will have more time to adjust, retrain or retire out of the workforce. Given the quickening pace of technological adoption over the past half century, however, rapid adoption is more likely.”