Navy Launches Its First Drone Squadron

A U.S. Navy RQ-8A Fire Scout Vertical Takeoff and Landing Tactical Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (VTUAV) System prepares to land aboard the amphibious transport dock ship USS Nashville (LPD 13). This is the first autonomous landing of the Fire Scout aboard a Navy vessel at sea. With an on-station endurance of over four hours, the Fire Scout system is capable of continuous operations, providing coverage at 110 nautical miles from the launch site. Utilizing a baseline payload that includes electro-optical/infrared sensors and a laser rangefinder/designator, Fire Scout can find and identify tactical targets, track and designate targets, accurately provide targeting data to strike platforms, employ precision weapons, and perform battle damage assessment.

A U.S. Navy RQ-8A Fire Scout Vertical Takeoff and Landing Tactical Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (VTUAV) System prepares to land aboard the amphibious transport dock ship USS Nashville (LPD 13). This is the first autonomous landing of the Fire Scout aboard a Navy vessel at sea. With an on-station endurance of over four hours, the Fire Scout system is capable of continuous operations, providing coverage at 110 nautical miles from the launch site. Utilizing a baseline payload that includes electro-optical/infrared sensors and a laser rangefinder/designator, Fire Scout can find and identify tactical targets, track and designate targets, accurately provide targeting data to strike platforms, employ precision weapons, and perform battle damage assessment. (Photo: U.S. Navy/Kurt M. Lengfield)

The U.S. Navy is inaugurating its first squadron that mixes advanced unmanned drones with conventional aircraft.

The maritime strike squadron, nicknamed the “Magicians,” will be officially launched at the Naval Air Station North Island on Coronado, near San Diego.

Along with eight manned helicopters, the squadron will include a number of unmanned helicopter drones, known as MQ-8B Fire Scouts, that can track targets at sea or on land. The Air Force already has several drone squadrons.

The Fire Scout, built by Northrop Grumman, “has the ability to autonomously take off and land on any aviation-capable warship and at prepared and unprepared landing zones in proximity to the soldier in contact,” according to company literature.

Northrop Grumman says the unmanned aerial vehicle can operate continuously for up to eight hours while providing coverage in a 125-mile radius of the launch site.

The Associated Press quotes U.S. Navy Lt. Aaron Kakiel as saying the squadron will be deployed aboard the Navy’s new littoral combat ship in about a year.

The squadron’s creation comes 100 years after the formation of the first Navy air detachment, Kakiel says.

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Navy Launches Its First Drone Squadron