Surface Warfare Magazine
Sharing stories and news from Sailors across the U.S. Navy’s Surface Forces
 
USS Coronado Switching Gears

In June, littoral combat ship USS Coronado (LCS 4) conducted underway operational testing of the Navy’s newest unmanned helicopter, the MQ-8C Fire Scout. The testing was a continuation of initial Fire Scout operational testing that began in April this year. The most recent phase tested the MQ-8C's ability to operate concurrently with other airborne assets and littoral combat ships, like Coronado. The enhanced capability will provide commanders an improved and integrated intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance picture.

Operations such as these reflect a shift in mindset for Coronado’s crew. Last year, they were conducting division tactics with foreign navies at sea and community relations events in numerous ports throughout Southeast Asia during the Independence-variant’s maiden deployment. Since Coronado’s return to homeport in late 2017, she embraced her new role as a test ship assigned to Commander, Littoral Combat Ship Squadron One. This transition does not make Coronado’s crew any less operational, but their mission is now centered on technological and tactical advancements, Coronado’s story highlights exciting developments for the LCS community and the Fleet writ large.

A Test Ship in the Making

In December 2017 Coronado pulled into San Diego after a 14-month deployment to the Western Pacific.. The lengthy maiden deployment was made possible by the work of two crews, LCS Crew 203 and 204, who turned over the ship in Singapore at the halfway point. With a focus on Theater Security Cooperation operations, both crews demonstrated the tangible value of the Navy’s newest ship class through 11 bilateral and multilateral exercises, 10 strategic port visits, and working alongside 16 foreign navies.

Executing multiple operations and maintenance events throughout 7th Fleet, often in places unfamiliar with LCS, equipped both crews with the first-hand knowledge necessary to optimize the platform, while also making them the right Sailors to see Coronado through her transition to a test ship upon return to home port. Coronado Sailors returned to San Diego even more knowledgeable, highly agile and steadfast -- traits that have been invaluable and directly contributed to recent testing successes involving the ship.

 

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A Test Ship is Born

The transition period and subsequent testing have required a perfect balance of following directed procedures and finding inventive solutions.

Beginning in January 2018, Coronado completed developmental and operational testing of the Coastal Battlefield Reconnaissance and Analysis (COBRA) system in conjunction with Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron 21 and Mine Countermeasure Detachment 6. The COBRA software is designed to aid unmanned aerial systems in the detection and localization of mines in the littorals. Future development of this system could provide increased capabilities for the unmanned helicopter included in the LCS Surface Warfare package, the MQ-8B Fire Scout, and key support for amphibious forces.

Coronado then completed the first Initial Operational Test and Evaluation (IOT&E) for the MQ-8C Fire Scout, the Navy’s newest unmanned helicopter, with Air Test and Evaluation Squadron 1 (VX-1). The latest Fire Scout offers increased speed, a higher ceiling, over twice the fuel endurance, and improved payload capacity.

Through in port and underway operations, Coronado and VX-1 assessed how to leverage the improved asset and use it in parallel to the aviation detachment’s other aircraft, the MH-60S Seahawk. They conducted a series of simulated engagements and were able to demonstrate Fire Scout’s role within the ship’s tactical framework. This testing built on previous successful flights aboard other LCSs and platforms. Their findings will enable to decision-makers to integrate the new Fire Scout technology with LCS, as well as other fleet units.

The Future of LCS Test Ships

LCS test ships will take on more and more testing throughout the rest of the year. Upcoming mission module testing will further develop mine countermeasure and anti-submarine warfare technology available to operational and soon-to-be commissioned LCSs.

Manning an LCS test ship is both a challenge and an opportunity for Sailors. The small, highly-trained crew must adapt to meet the goals of many entities, including the normal requirements of any command, the normal requirements of any ship on the waterfront, as well as the unique demands of a testing platform.

Coronado, along with USS Freedom (LCS 1), USS Independence (LCS 2), and USS Fort Worth (LCS 3), are performing a distinct mission which will simultaneously help improve our Navy’s technology while also enabling other ships to focus on future operations. In these ways testing ships strengthen the foundation of the LCS community and rapidly-evolving Navy technology as a whole.Surface Warfare Magazine

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