Blazing a Trail With the Pathfinders of Helicopter Maritime Strike Squadron (HSM) 35, Det. 1
SINGAPORE (NNS) -- The "Pathfinders" of Helicopter Maritime Strike Squadron (HSM) 35, Det. 1, the Navy's first composite expeditionary helicopter squadron, are currently deployed aboard the littoral combat ship USS Fort Worth (LCS 3) during her maiden 16-month rotational deployment to the Indo-Asia-Pacific region.
HSM-35, Det. 1, is a self-contained portion of the surface warfare mission package on Fort Worth consisting of one MH-60R Sea Hawk helicopter and one MQ-8B Fire Scout unmanned aircraft system.
"We bring the venerable MH-60R Sea Hawk," said Lt. Cmdr. Douglas Kay, officer-in-charge of HSM-35, Det. 1."The H-60 platform is a tried and true maritime asset with primary missions of surface warfare and anti-submarine warfare. In our current function with the mission package, we are concentrating on surface warfare, but we also carry out secondary missions like vertical replenishments among a number of other things."
The MH-60R brings search and rescue capabilities, communication relay, and can carry a potential payload of hellfire missiles and a crew-served 50-caliber machine gun to littoral combat ships. Additionally, the MH-60R is equipped with multi-mode radar that includes Inverse Synthetic Aperture Radar and a forward looking infrared electro-optical device, which was used recently during the search for AirAsia Flight QZ8501. The unarmed MQ-8B's primary sensor is a forward looking infrared camera (FLIR). Together the MH-60R and MQ-8B provide enhanced maritime domain awareness with the MQ-8B complementing the MH-60 by extending the detachment's range and endurance capabilities.
"The Fire Scout increases the aviation detachment's ability to keep eyes on station and provide real time information to the operational commander on the ship," said Kay.
The 24 Sailors in the detachment are cross-trained to conduct all maintenance and supply for both aircraft. In addition to the helicopter advanced readiness program, as well as the normal workup cycle, the detachment must complete Fire Scout-specific training to fully integrate the unmanned aircraft system into their operations.
"That's above and beyond what a normal HSM helicopter detachment will have to do," said Kay. "We are currently the only helicopter detachment that does what we do, but HSM-35, Det. 2, is currently in the workup cycle with LCS Crew 103 on USS Freedom (LCS 1) and is preparing to come replace us."
The first crew swap is scheduled for mid-February, which is when the Pathfinders will rotate to another task, along with LCS Crew 104, after conducting turnover and sharing lessons learned with incoming HSM-35, Det. 2.
"We're doing great! We've been getting a lot of good flight time in with Sea Hawk and Fire Scout operations and just like our detachment name says, we're the Pathfinders, and we're creating new techniques everyday on how to best operate both Sea Hawk and Fire Scout on a littoral combat ship," said Kay.
Fort Worth is currently in port Singapore, its maintenance and logistics hub, after having recently returned from supporting the Indonesian-led search to locate the AirAsia plane. Throughout the ship's 13 days on station in the Java Sea, HSM 35, Det. 1, conducted more than 90 hours of search operations using the MH-60R, covering more than 2,500 square nautical miles.
Over the course of its deployment, Fort Worth will increase LCS operations in the region by visiting more ports, engaging more regional navies during exercises like Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training, and expanding LCS capabilities with tools like the Fire Scout.
The U.S. 7th Fleet conducts forward-deployed naval operations in support of U.S. national interests in the Indo-Asia-Pacific area of operations. As the U.S. Navy's largest numbered fleet, U.S. 7th Fleet interacts with 35 other maritime nations to build partnerships that foster maritime security, promote stability and prevent conflict.