US Military Welcomes the Fire-X Drone To Their Arsenal

The job of protecting a nation falls to the many branches of a country’s military organizations. The main defensive and offensive branches of the United States are the Army, Air Force, and Navy. To meet modernizing warfare tactics, specialized military forces began emerging in the early 20th Century, especially during World War II. As defined by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), these special forces are “military activities conducted by specially designated, organized, trained, and equipped forces, manned with selected personnel, using unconventional tactics, techniques, and modes of employment.” Special forces are often considered the most elite branches of a country’s military power.

In the United States, some of the most famous elite special forces units are Seal Team Six, the Green Berets, and the Marine Corps. Since 1834, the Marine Corps has operated under the US Navy. The unit specializes in combining maritime to land operations. Though a wholly independent organization, Marines share a close relationship with the Navy. On March 10, 2022, after weeks of individual training, a team of Marines met up with a team from the Navy to conduct experiments on integrating manned and unmanned aerial platforms.

The two teams coming together at the Naval Air Facility in El Centro, California, were the Marine Operational Test and Evaluation Squadron One (VMX-1) and sailors from Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron 23 (HSC-23). The exercises involved seeing how manned aircraft like UH-1Y Venom and AH-1Z Viper helicopters, could respond and coordinate with an unmanned helicopter operated by personnel in a ground control station. The drone being tested was the MQ-8C Fire Scout (Fire-X) built by West Falls, Virginia aerospace and defensive technology giant Northrop Grumman.

In 2010, at the behest of the US Navy, Northrop began working on a concept that would combine the autonomous control options of the MQ-8B with a Bell 407 helicopter. The large helicopter-drone would be ideal for supporting Naval intelligence, reconnaissance, surveillance, communications, and resupply operations. The Fire-X drone made its maiden flight on December 20, 2010, at the Yuma Proving Ground in Arizona. After tweaking the system, with the help of a $262.3 million investment from the Navy, Fire-X was officially introduced into use in June of 2019.

The final version of the Fire-X drone weighs 3,050lbs and has an additional payload capacity of 2,950lbs. It measures 34ft 8in long, 10ft 11in tall, and has a 4 blade rotor with a diameter of 36ft 7in. Powered by a Rolls Royce 250-C47B engine, the drone has a maximum speed of 160mph with a ceiling range of 20,000ft, and can remain airborne for up to 15 hours.

Maintaining the commitment to the terms of the special force set forth by NATO, the Marine Corps recognized the benefits of incorporating a drone like Fire-X into their arsenal. As the Marine Corps VMX-1 Commanding Officer Col. Byron Sullivan explained, “This opportunity promotes greater familiarization and concept development of the manned-unmanned teaming that builds confidence and efficiency throughout the Blue-Green Team. Our partnership plays an integral part of the Commandant and Chief of Naval Operation’s vision to embrace the future of warfare and turn it into our advantage on the battlefield.”

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