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.