US MQ-8B unmanned helo hunts enemy subs in a small timeline

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WASHINGTON — The US Navy has long since accepted into service 28 MQ-8B unmanned helicopters. According to the Pentagon’s plans, the US Navy should acquire about 90 units of this drone. Its other variant, the larger MQ-8C version, is undergoing testing and the US has also planned to buy about 90 units of it.

Photo credit: Wikipedia

But what makes this helicopter drone so talked about lately? Of course, the war in Ukraine brings to the surface technologies that in the future will have to solve the mistakes made today by Russians or Ukrainians. At the same time, there is talk of a future conflict between the US and China over Taiwan.

The MQ-8B is designed to perform reconnaissance for the benefit of the US Navy. This drone is an ISR-type system – intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance. It is designed to provide situational awareness, aerial fire support, and precision targeting support.

In one of his recent articles, Kris Osborn writes that the US Navy is expanding the functional capabilities of the MQ-8B, also known as the Fire Scout. The MQ-8B [and most likely the MQ-8C] will get laser and rad units. With their help, the Fire Scout will have to face enemy submarines, ships, and mines.

What does this mean? The US Navy wants to turn this reconnaissance drone into a submarine hunter. When an enemy submarine surfaces, the drone must precisely use laser targeting and its radar sensors. Fire Scout will have a short window of time to do all this because submarines generally do not stay afloat for long in the open sea. Thanks to its autonomy, the Fire Scout can instantly provide data on the location of the enemy submarine and thus direct the attack that is expected to follow. I.e. the long range of the radar sensors and laser can significantly shorten the time to engage the submarine, also known as the “sensor-to-shooter timeline”.

Photo credit: Defense News

The US Navy sees a future in the use of these unmanned platforms. This application also has a term – amphibious warfare ie. in the future, launching unmanned helicopters such as the MQ-8B will be a more common practice than launching aircraft from aircraft carriers.

However, the MQ-8B will receive a greater range of capabilities. Reengineered as a submarine hunter, the MQ-8B will be able to benefit the Coast Guard or the mother ship while conducting reconnaissance over land territory. All this will allow amphibious ships to transport troops on land more quickly, safely, and easily. And they, in turn, will know what threat exists and where it is located.

The question remains whether the MQ-8B can be converted into an armed helicopter. The US has tested this option, according to Kris Osborn, in recent years, but there is no official decision, he also writes.

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