PATUXENT RIVER, Md. | The MQ-8B Fire Scout, the Navy’s only unmanned aircraft to operate on land and at sea, departed Jan. 17 from Mayport, Fla., aboard USS Simpson (FFG 56) for a six-month deployment to western Africa.
Personnel from Helicopter Anti-Submarine Squadron Light (HSL) 60 Detachment 4 and Northrop Grumman took Fire Scout on its third at-sea deployment aboard a guided missile frigate. Typically deployed as a complement to the manned H-60 helicopter, this is the Fire Scout’s first solo mission.
“Fire Scout offers similar capabilities currently provided by the H-60,” said Capt. Patrick Smith, Fire Scout program manager. “It gives the ship and the detachment greater flexibility in meeting operational needs and frees manned aircraft to support other high-demand missions.”
For the next six months, two Fire Scout air vehicles will support exercises off the west coast of Africa as part of the Africa Partnership Station (APS). The international initiative was developed by U.S. Naval Forces Europe-Africa to improve maritime safety and security in the region as part of U.S. Africa Command’s Security Cooperation program.
“I am happy our team will help build partnership capacity of our allies, and increase the level of cooperation between them to improve maritime safety and security,” Smith said.
Fire Scout greatly extends and improves the fleet’s ability to perform intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance missions, Smith said. During its most recent sea-based deployment aboard USS Halyburton (FFG 40), Fire Scout gathered hundreds of hours of real-time intelligence for ship commanders as they supported counter-piracy operations and missions in Libya.
“We have pushed Fire Scout to its operational limits for altitude, range and endurance,” Smith added. “The Simpson deployment gives us an opportunity to explore different operational vignettes and continue to expand Fire Scout’s limits.”
The Simpson deployment coincides with Fire Scout’s ongoing operations in Afghanistan. Fire Scout has exceeded 2,000 hours of real-time intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance support to U.S. and allied troops in northern Afghanistan.