An MH-60R Seahawk helicopter and MQ-8B Fire Scout are deploying together as a composite unit on the same ship — a first for manned and unmanned integration aboard a littoral combat ship.
On Monday, a detachment that included one Seahawk and one Fire Scout from the "Magicians" of Helicopter Maritime Strike Squadron 35 the "Magicians" deployed aboard the LCS Fort Worth as it begins a 16-month rotation in the Western Pacific based out of Singapore.
It is not the first time Fire Scouts and Seahawks have deployed together, however. In October 2009, two Fire Scouts deployedfor U.S. Naval Forces Southern Command to the eastern Pacific Ocean aboard the frigate McInerney with embarked Helicopter Antisubmarine Squadron (Light) 42, Detachment 7.
The 24-sailor aviation detachment on the Fort Worth left San Diego and will spend approximately four months underway before it is relieved by a second detachment from the Magicians. Detachments 3 and 4 and four will follow until the ship's 16-month rotation is complete. Officials said Fire Scouts and Seahawks will deploy on a similar four-month schedule on other vessels.
"All of this is a new thing," said Lt. Cmdr. Doug Kay, the officer in charge of the detachment.
It's also the first deployment for the Fort Worth, the second of the Freedom-class LCS warships.
The aviation detachment includes three pilots, four aircrew, one senior chief and 16 maintainers. They will aAll will rotate be rotated out after four months. The two aircraft will remain deployed in what essentially amounts to an aviation crew swap.
Lt. Cmdr. Katie Ellis, the squadron's executive officer, said this deployment model supports the minimal manning requirements of the LCS, and it gives combatant commanders the choice of two aircraft with different niches for aviation support.
"We are writing the book on dual ship-side [LCS] operations," she said.
The composite detachment concept for an LCS was tested from April 25 to May 16 aboard the littoral combat ship Freedom. While at sea they evaluated a series of evolutions, including a boarding exercise that included both helicopters as well as two 11-meter rigid hull inflatable boats.
The Seahawk is the Navy's multimission, rotary-wing workhorse. While the bird has a variety of capabilities, it's mostly used for anti-submarine and anti-surface warfare missions. The Fire Scout has a range of more than over 100 miles and can stay on station for approximately three hours for missions like surveillance. Kay said iIt's "ideally suited as a non-threatening eye in the sky," Kay said.
Flying two helicoptersaircraft from one detachment is possible because sailors are cross trained on both platforms, Kay said. For example, Kay is doubling-up as the air boss while sensor operators in the Seahawk are also mission payload officers in the Fire Scout, he said.
Lt. Robert Bower, the maintenance officer, said the basics of helicopter upkeep and repair are similar between platforms so mechanics and electricians can keep both the Fire Scout and Seahawk running smoothly. If there is a difficult maintenance problem, they're able to contacts experts ashore for advice, he said.
The deployment model means that some pilots won't log flight hours exclusively in the cockpit but also rather in a control booth on the ships as well. Kay said that aviators are supportive of this concept even if it means less time at the stick and rudder.
"I think that pilots always want to fly more, but we're on board," he said.
Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that the Fort Worth had been the first surface combatant to deploy with a composite helicopter detachment. It is the first time for an LCS, however.