US Navy demos new mine countermeasure prototype on MQ-8C Fire Scout

The US Navy has recently demonstrated new mine countermeasure (MCM) prototype technology aboard a Northrop Grumman MQ-8C Fire Scout unmanned helicopter at Eglin Air Force Base (AFB) in Florida.

US Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR) announced the completion of this recent demonstration on July 7, adding that it was carried out to prove “a capability that could allow the warfighter to rapidly detect and respond to threats.” The aim of the demonstration (which occurred in May) was to gather performance data for both the MQ-8C and the BAE Systems-developed Single-system Multi-mission Airborne Mine Detection (SMAMD) system to inform future MCM integration efforts.

A US Navy-operated MQ-8C Fire Scout unmanned helicopter demonstrates new MCM prototype technology at Eglin AFB, Florida, in May 2022. This demonstration sought to prove the BAE Systems-developed SMAMD system, which could allow warfighters to detect and respond to threats much quicker than they can with MCM solutions currently in use.
A US Navy-operated MQ-8C Fire Scout unmanned helicopter demonstrates new MCM prototype technology at Eglin AFB, Florida, in May 2022. This demonstration sought to prove the BAE Systems-developed SMAMD system, which could allow warfighters to detect and respond to threats much quicker than they can with MCM solutions currently in use. US Navy

Commenting on the results of this recent demonstration, Capt Thomas Lansley – the US Navy’s Fire Scout program director – said: “The team successfully demonstrated that the prototype SMAMD system effectively operates as designed aboard the MQ-8C Fire Scout unmanned helicopter in relevant real-world environments. This cutting-edge technology could really enhance [the] Fire Scout’s capability going forward.”

This complex demonstration was managed by a Naval Air Warfare Center Aircraft Division (NAWCAD) AIRWorks team. For the demonstration, the NAWCAD AIRWorks SMAMD Team facilitated the airworthiness and cyber certifications; design, fabrication and hardware integration and carried out flying qualities testing before the final demonstration took place at Eglin AFB.

Kristina Hewitt-Thompson, AIRWorks’ project lead, said: “The AIRWorks SMAMD Team was proud to be a part of demonstrating a future naval capability which provides real-time threat detection to the warfighter. Through this effort, we were able to assist in risk reduction and provide critical data for future integration.” 

The purpose of the demonstration at Eglin AFB was to gather performance data for both the MQ-8C Fire Scout and SMAMD system to inform future MCM integration efforts.
The purpose of the demonstration at Eglin AFB was to gather performance data for both the MQ-8C Fire Scout and SMAMD system to inform future MCM integration efforts. US Navy

During the demonstration, the team conducted operations from the Naval Surface Warfare Center (NSWC) and used drifting, tethered and moored mines from beach terrain and deep water areas. The team gathered data both day and night, across a variety of water depths and in mild-to-difficult weather conditions. 

NAVAIR also explained how the demonstration also proved the “reliable and repeatable high performance” of the MQ-8C. “The air vehicle handled the dual podded system with ease, being the first MCM capability flown on the MQ-8C as well as the heaviest payload carried to date. [The] Fire Scout successfully operated in restricted and unrestricted airspace alongside other aircraft platforms,” NAVAIR added.

Developed by BAE Systems under the US Navy’s Future Naval Capability (FNC) programme – led by the Office of Naval Research (ONR) – the SMAMD system is an airborne optical sensor suite that can detect and localise mines and obstacles on land and at sea in a single pass. “With a low false-alarm rate, SMAMD provides real-time detection sent via datalink, enabling warfighters to respond much quicker to threats than the current MCM technologies allow, as post-mission analysis is required,” NAVAIR said.