By: Megan Eckstein
The Navy’s summer series of bilateral exercises in the Pacific gave the Littoral Combat Ship USS Fort Worth (LCS-3) a chance to demonstrate emerging capabilities of the new platform, using its rigid-hull inflatable boats (RHIBs) and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) for the first time in an operational context.
Cmdr. Christopher Brown, Fort Worth’s commanding officer, told USNI News in an email that Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training (CARAT) Indonesia and CARAT Singaporewere particularly good exercises for the ship’s crew, which were able to integrate all the assets of the LCS surface warfare mission package: one MH-60R helicopter, one MQ-8B Fire Scout unmanned aircraft system, two 11-meter RHIBs with two six-man boarding teams and two 30mm guns.
“This is the first time that Fire Scout is operating in 7th Fleet onboard Fort Worth and also the first time that Fire Scout and the MH-60R helicopter have deployed together onboard an LCS. The addition of Fire Scout greatly expands the ship’s aviation capabilities and endurance, and provides a dedicated asset for maritime domain awareness,” he wrote.
“During CARAT Singapore, Fire Scout was used to provide over-the-horizon imagery and video of the opposing surface action group and stream the video back to Fort Worth. This capability provided Fort Worth a detailed visual of the opposing ships that a radar picture alone can’t provide. Additionally, the MQ-8B provides longer on-station times and is less counter-detectable than the MH-60R.”
Brown said the use of UAVs – both the Fire Scout and the Republic of Singapore Navy’s Scan Eagle – was the highlight of CARAT Singapore, “demonstrating the value of unmanned platforms in providing an enhanced maritime domain awareness picture for the afloat task group.”
The LCS crew has also tested and integrated a Fire Scout mission payload called VORTEX, which streams video from a Brite Star II Forward-looking Infared (FLIR) camera to a handheld panel. Brown said VORTEX provides units – such as a Visit, Board, Search and Seizure (VBSS) team on an 11-meter RHIB – the ability to see what Fire Scout is seeing over land or sea.
The VBSS team played a big role in CARAT Indonesia, Brown said, with the Indonesian Navy coming aboard Fort Worth for the first time.
“Defensive positioning, search procedures, and weapons tactics were discussed and participants were able to utilize the techniques during a realistic boarding by the Indonesian Navy (TNI-AL) boarding team onboard Fort Worth,” Brown wrote.