|MQ-8C Fire Scout|
It seems that the Navy has assessed the MQ-8C as a failure, at least for the moment.
Although there are marked improvements in endurance over the MQ-8B, the Navy and DOT&E assessed the MQ-8C system as not operationally effective, not operationally suitable, and not cyber survivable. (1)
Well that was a touch damning. Why the negative assessment?
Primary degraders that led to this assessment included the overall air vehicle reliability, image quality and system performance of the BRITE Star II EO/IR system, and the poor reliability and inconsistency of the Tactical Common Data Link (TCDL). The TCDL is the conduit for payload video and control. Excessive operator workload coupled with an immature supply support system also contributed to the assessment of not operationally suitable. (1)
So, essentially, the Fire Scout can’t see, hear, or talk but at least it’s slow and not stealthy! This reminds me of the common assessment of my favorite cellar dwelling hockey team: they may be small but they’re slow.
So, there you have the DOT&E testing assessment. Despite the results and the Navy’s own negative assessment, the Navy declared that the Fire Scout achieved Initial Operational Capability (IOC) in Jun 2019 .
The Navy declared its MQ-8C Fire Scout unmanned helicopter mission capable and ready to deploy aboard Littoral Combat Ships. (2)
Let me understand this. The Navy believes that the Fire Scout is not operationally effective, not operationally suitable, and not cyber survivable and that constitutes a declaration of IOC????? Well, doesn’t that just sum up the state of the Navy today?
Many people believed that the Fire Scout would also be used to defeat swarm boat attacks but the Navy has dropped that idea.
A little more than a year ago, the Navy was still testing how Fire Scouts could be used to repel swarm attacks of small attack craft. By this spring, the Navy scrapped those plans in favor of loading the aircraft with sensors to provide an LCS with superior over-the-horizon targeting capabilities. (2)
Why did the Navy opt to drop the idea of arming the FireScout?
The decision to focus on targeting missions comes after the Navy experienced some space constraints associated with arming the Fire Scout aboard an LCS. The Navy intended the Fire Scout to carry BAE System’s advanced precision kill weapon system (APKWS), which are modified 70mm Hydra rockets fitted with a guidance system.
While a smaller MQ-8B Fire Scout was able to successfully demonstrate its ability to operate the weapon aboard an LCS in 2018, it became clear the LCS ships themselves do not have a lot of magazine space, explained Capt. Jeff Dodge, the Navy’s Fire Scout program manager … (2)
The Navy has bought, or is planning to buy, 38 MQ-8C Fire Scouts.
The MQ-8C first flight occurred in 2013. Now, seven years later, this is where we’re at. The -8C should have been about the easiest development program possible. It used existing airframes and technology. There was nothing particularly novel about it and, yet, the Navy can’t seem to make it work. I think the lesson herein is that technology is always oversold. It always suffers from performance problems despite glowing manufacturer’s claims. It’s always more difficult to implement than anticipated. Observers who marvel at the latest claims are just deluding themselves. The more technology you put into something, the more problems you’ll have (Ford, LCS, Zumwalt, F-35, etc.). There is a very good argument for simpler, more basic equipment that has a much higher chance of actually working.
There you have the current status of the Fire Scout. It will not be armed and will be tasked with surveillance and targeting despite being assessed by the Navy and DOT&E as not operationally effective, not operationally suitable, and not cyber survivable. Sounds like the basis for an effective distributed lethality concept, right?
The new DOT&E category of cyber survivability is an interesting one. This suggests that the possibility exists that an enemy could take control of a Fire Scout during flight via cyber attack or, at least, render it a mission kill.
With all that in mind, keep going Navy! Against all reason, you’ve declared IOC so keep going!
(1)Director, Operational Test and Evaluation (DOT&E), FY 2019 Annual Report, 20-Dec-2019, p. 151-2
(2)USNI News website, “Navy Declares Unmanned MQ-8C Fire Scout Helicopter Mission Capable”, Ben Werner, 9-Jul-2019,https://news.usni.org/2019/07/09/navy-declares-unmanned-mq-8c-fire-scout-helicopter-mission-capable