The U.S. Navy has begun its search for a possible alternative to its fleet of Sikorsky MH-60R/S Seahawk helicopter and Northrop Grumman MQ-8B/C Fire Scout unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV). The MH-60R/S and MQ-8C fleets will begin to reach their end of service in the 2030s.
Under the Future Vertical Lift Maritime Strike Analysis of Alternatives (AoA) initiative, the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations (OPNAV N98) seeks to inform its search for UAV and helicopter replacements. N98 has identified a requirement to assess potential solutions for “capability gaps due to the increasingly sophisticated adversary” and the capacity gaps associated with the expected retirement of the Seahawk aircraft and Fire Scout drone in the 2030s.
The U.S. Navy plans to use the new flying helicopters to solve several problems. These include observation and reconnaissance, target detection and target designation, anti-submarine warfare, mine warfare, electronic reconnaissance and suppression, transportation of goods, and support for special operations forces.
“The MH-60 Seahawk helicopters and the MQ-8 Fire Scout Unmanned Air Vehicles are the pillars of the Naval Helicopter Concept of Operations for the 21st century,” the U.S. Navy’s AoA notice said. “The Warfighting Capability provided, whether deployed as Carrier Air Wing squadrons embarked on aircraft carriers under the leadership of carrier air wing commanders or as Expeditionary squadrons embarked on LHAs/LHDs, surface combatants and logistics vessels, is broad and unparalleled in naval warfare.”
The MH-60R/S Seahawk helicopters entered service with the U.S. Navy in the first half of the 2000s. The machine has 19.7 meters in length, 5.2 meters in height, and the main rotor diameter of 16.4 meters. The maximum take-off weight of the helicopter is 23,000 lb (10,433 kg). The helicopter is capable of flying at speeds up to 270 km/h (168 mph) for a distance of up to 830 km (520 miles). The MH-60R/S can carry torpedoes, missiles, and machine guns, as well as carry up to five fighters.
In turn, the FireScout UAVs entered service with the U.S. Navy in the late 2000s. The MQ-8B version is based on the Schweizer 333 multipurpose helicopter, and the larger MQ-8C Fire Scout variant is based on the Bell 407. These unmanned helicopters are used for reconnaissance and surveillance and can also be used to launch missiles at land and sea targets.