MQ-8B Fire Scout Program Support Analysis For Commander Helicopter Maritime Strike Wing Atlantic Fleet
Wood, Frank R. "Chip"
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EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: The Navy finds itself facing a period of increasing transformation as the second decade of the 21st century quickly approaches. Having been forced to shift its focus away from „blue water_ operations to the littorals to confront the emerging threats posed by global terrorism and rogue states, the Navy must accomplish this transformation with constrained fiscal resources and an aging fleet at home. New initiatives, such as Sea Power 21, will help the Navy adapt to this new environment, and will drastically change the way the Navy trains for, fights, and wins the nation_s wars of the future. A major tenant of Sea Power 21 is to acquire new weapons_ systems to help the Navy adapt to its new role in the joint war fighting environment. In addition to manned systems, the Navy will also procure new, more complex, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) to support a wide range of mission subsets. While Commander Helicopter Maritime Strike Wing Atlantic Fleet (COMHSMWINGLANT) and the LAMPS Mk III community are already transitioning to the MH-60R helicopter to replace the venerable SH-60B Seahawk, naval leadership has already begun proposing the incorporation of the MQ-8B Fire Scout Vertical Take-off/Landing Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (VTUAV) into existing HSM/HSL squadrons and detachments. To test the feasibility of deploying the MQ-8B with a LAMPS detachment, the Navy has tasked Helicopter Anti-Submarine Squadron Light Four Two (HSL-42) Detachment SEVEN (DET 7) to deploy with two VTUAVs during a scheduled deployment in 2009 aboard USS McInerney (FFG-8). This detachment will operate and maintain the Fire Scout, and will help further refine the Navy_s existing concept of operations (CONOPS) for the VTUAV. If successful, this testing could provide the Navy with the data necessary to help requisition further funding for Fire Scout incorporation on existing surface warships. To aid COMHSMWINGLANT in risk mitigation and planning, Team Mayport identified potential impacts on required detachment manning levels, training needed, duration of training and its impact on readiness, necessary infrastructure, the impact on current detachment operational capabilities, and maintenance. While these factors will have a significant impact on HSM/HSL squadrons and existing warships, Team Mayport focused their efforts on factors affecting detachments only. Interviews were conducted with HSL-42, FFG-8 personnel, the VTUAV Fleet Integration Team (FIT), NAVAIR 1.2 Ship/Aviation Integration Team, and COMHSMWINGLANT staff to gather data necessary to achieve the Team_s objectives. Extensive research was also conducted utilizing existing documentation regarding the Fire Scout including draft proposals, CONOPS, Manpower Estimation Reports (MERs), as well as information published commercially. Team Mayport found that, while there may still be a great deal of uncertainty surrounding the VTUAV, the incorporation of the VTUAV into existing COMHSMWINGLANT force structures will only improve the Wing_s overall mission effectiveness. The Fire Scout will provide more flexibility and will complement existing wing capabilities. The incorporation of the Fire Scout will also help to reduce associated helicopter maintenance costs by reducing helicopter flight hours. It is possible, however, that the reduction in maintenance costs may be offset by a decrease in aircrew proficiency as expeditionary flight crews will certainly fly less, and will be required to be duel qualified in both the H-60 and MQ-8B. Team Mayport recommends that COMHSMWINGLANT leadership consider the ramifications of reduced manning for LCS composite aviation detachments, and utilize the standard detachment construct for two-plane detachments aboard existing warships. The Team further recommends that leadership closely consider the cultural impacts of incorporating the MQ-8B into existing force structures. In addition, Wing leadership should conduct a sight survey of training facilities to determine their ability to support future VTUAV training. Team Mayport is confident that information gathered from HSL-42 Detachment 7_s 2009 deployment will further support these findings, and will aid in the Wing_s efforts toward successful incorporation of the Fire Scout VTUAV.
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