HSC-22 DET 3 Sails with Fire Scout, USS Milwaukee

An MQ-8B Fire Scout unmanned aerial vehicle, assigned to the “Sea Knights” of Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron (HSC) 22, conducts flight operations during an underway with the Freedom-class littoral combat ship USS Milwaukee (LCS 5). (U.S. Navy photo by MC2 Anderson W. Branch )

In June, Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron (HSC) 22 became the first East Coast squadron to sail with both type/model/series on the Freedom-class littoral combat ship (LCS) platform during USS Milwaukee’s (LCS 5) first underway with MH-60S Seahawk and MQ-8B Fire Scout aircraft.

Before getting underway, Detachment (DET) 3 traveled to Point Mugu Naval Air Station in California to test the Fire Scout’s capabilities over water and land. This was the first time the DET operated the on-board ZPY-4 radar successfully in conjunction with the BriteStar II Modular Mission Payload to find and identify surface contacts. The DET also conducted its first night operation of the Fire Scout and employed the air vehicle’s voice relay ability to communicate over the horizon with both ground forces and the MH-60S.

“The experience gained by maintenance personnel and aircrew was essential in determining how both aircraft would be best utilized in the shipboard maritime environment,” said Lt. Cmdr. A.J. Castro, DET 3 officer in charge.

“Once we were on board ship, we had the opportunity to practice procedures and communications in a unique maritime environment that proved to be more challenging than at a shore-based facility,” said Lt. Cassandra Gettinger, DET 3 H-60S/MQ-8B pilot.

Fire Scout crews used its surface radar sytems to track and classify contacts while coordinating actions with the ship’s combat center. The DET could see and identify surface ships from hundreds of miles along the coast without detection, demonstrating the Fire Scout’s integral future as the Navy’s newest and most lethal resource for operational reconnaissance and intelligence collecting missions.

“It means a lot to be able to provide the ship with an improved maritime picture using our radar systems. The capabilities we can bring to the table make us an invaluable resource,” said Aviation Warfare Systems Operator 2nd class Justin McCrary, DET 3 H-60S aircrew member and mission payload operator (MPO).

While underway, members of the Coast Guard’s Airborne Use of Force (AUF) Tactical Law Enforcement and their ship boarding teams executed a full mission profile, using both the MH-60S and Fire Scout to find and identify their target, ultimately disabling and taking command of the suspect vessel. Their forces combined, the ship qualified in the multi-service AUF mission they will be primarily focused on during their upcoming deployment in 4th Fleet.

Embedded in the mission and operational training period, ship’s personnel and DET 3 learned how to collaborate.

“It was always easy to find the people and resources I needed because of the smaller crew and the quality of Sailors on board,” said Aviation Electrician’s Mate 1st class Nicholas Liddle, DET 3 H-60S/MQ-8B maintenance technician.

Because of limited manning on the LCS, teamwork proved to be of utmost importance, with DET 3 enlisted maintainers helping with flight deck readiness, and LCS sailors switching from galley duty to manning flight quarters in an instant.

“At times, being the first has been an uphill battle. We had to learn how to effectively operate and maintain two different platforms at the same time. It hasn’t been easy, but we are a stronger DET because of our experience. I am excited to see what the MQ-8B and MH-60S team will be able to accomplish when paired in the maritime environment,” Castro said.

In the two years since HSC-22’s safe-to-operate date for the Fire Scout, the squadron went from unqualified to deployment ready, explained Cmdr. Matt Persiani, HSC-22 Commanding Officer. “All of our maintainers, pilots and aircrew have worked incredibly hard to get us to this point, and it is due to their dedication that the DET 3 is ready to deploy with manned and unmanned aircraft,” he said. 

Next, to prepare for deployment this fall, HSC-22 DET 3 conducted a successful initial ship-aviation team training period and advanced phase with crew members from USS Milwaukee and USS Detroit (LCS-7) off the coast of Mayport, Florida. The squadron, with a crew of only 25 personnel, flew 40 hours in the MH-60S and 27 hours in the Fire Scout over a three-week period, practicing ship’s procedures and integrating for operational missions.

“For such a small crew to handle simultaneous manned and unmanned operations, teamwork was crucial, and we learned what works best. We relied on Detroit’s personnel to help facilitate flight quarters and ensure we were able to carry out all of our operational missions,” said Lt. Cmdr. A.J. Castro, DET 3 officer in charge.

DET 3 also conducted the first dual ship flight from a sea-based platform, where the air vehicle operators and MPOs communicated directly with the pilots and aircrew members for tactical employment of both aircraft.

“This accomplishment is redefining the HSC maritime presence worldwide and leading the way for developing tactics, techniques and procedures for manned/unmanned teaming,” Castro said. Written by Lt. Rebecca Atkinson, DET public affairs officer for HSC-22.