WASHINGTON — The U.S. Navy and Marine Corps demonstrated a naval manned-unmanned teaming capability during an exercise in California, showing off how their tactics and equipment could come together in the future to fight in a littoral environment.

UH-1Y Venom and AH-1Z Viper helicopters from Marine Operational Test and Evaluation Squadron One (VMX-1) conducted attacks during the March 10 exercise, while an MQ-8C Fire Scout unmanned aerial vehicle from the Navy’s Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron 23 (HSC-23) helped find the targets. Both Marines and sailors coordinated the strike from the Fire Scout ground control station, according to a Marine Corps news release.

“This opportunity promotes greater familiarization and concept development of the manned-unmanned teaming that builds confidence and efficiency throughout the Blue-Green Team,” VMX-1 Commanding Officer Col. Byron Sullivan said in the news release. He added that the commandant of the Marine Corps and the chief of naval operations had directed the sea services to “embrace the future of warfare and turn it into our advantage on the battlefield.”

During the exercise at Naval Air Facility El Centro, Calif., the naval team refined its ability to plan, communicate and coordinate fires between the manned and unmanned rotary-wing aircraft.

The Navy pairs its Fire Scout with its MH-60 fleet of helicopters, with the same squadron operating and maintaining both the manned and unmanned helicopters. Pilots might fly the MH-60 one day and control a Fire Scout from the console the next.

To date, the Marine Corps uses smaller UAVs to assist its ground forces, and its larger drones fall under separate unmanned aviation squadrons. This exercise represents a tighter integration between manned and unmanned aviation assets than the service typically sees.

The Marine Corps plans to deploy small units to dispersed locations around island chains and littoral regions under its Expeditionary Advanced Base Operations concept.

The Navy, too, plans to conduct Distributed Maritime Operations, with the littoral combat ships being a part of that ability to spread out the force into new locations not previously accessible to larger warships. The LCSs are the primary employers of the Fire Scout, as part of the LCS surface warfare mission package — meaning it’s possible Marine units could find themselves in a position to leverage a nearby Fire Scout, if the two services can work out the tactics and the technology ahead of time.

“Adversaries are going to be placed on the horns of a dilemma as we strengthen our naval expeditionary force in leveraging unmanned systems to complement our rotary wing,” VMX-1 Science and Technology lead Maj. Ben Henry said in the news release.

Megan Eckstein is the naval warfare reporter at Defense News. She has covered military news since 2009, with a focus on U.S. Navy and Marine Corps operations, acquisition programs, and budgets. She has reported from four geographic fleets and is happiest when she’s filing stories from a ship. Megan is a University of Maryland alumna.

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