Marines Successfully Trial MQ-8C Unmanned Helicopter Refuel

Marines have used the Marine Corps CH-53E to refuel an unmanned MQ-8C helicopter with a maximum payload of over 700 pounds of fuel and supports an estimated range of 150 nautical miles By Abi Wylie / 25 Aug 2023
Marines Successfully Trial MQ-8C Unmanned Helicopter Refuel
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Marines have delivered fuel to a Navy MQ-8C Fire Scout unmanned autonomous helicopter from a Marine Corps CH-53E for the first time in U.S. Navy and Marine Corps history.

The innovative aerial delivered ground refueling (ADGR) trial was the first time a manned aircraft has provided fuel for an unmanned rotary wing aircraft.

The MQ-8C is a sea-based, vertical lift unmanned system that traditionally operates from a Littoral Combat Ship (LCS), a relatively small surface vessel designed for operations near shore. The MQ-8C supports the LCS in and around littoral waters through data collection and assessment.

The Navy and Marine Corps were testing the tactical application of operating a shipborne integrated intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance platform for extended time ashore in a simulated littoral environment.

Marines leveraged the CH-53E’s ability to provide fuel to air and ground vehicles in austere environments to maximize the range of the MQ-8C. The CH-53E transferred approximately 700 pounds of fuel, just under the maximum payload of the MQ-8C, which supports an estimated range of 150 nautical miles. By comparison, the CH-53E has a maximum 23,450 pound fuel payload and supports an estimated range of 540 nautical miles.

As a result, the CH-53E can refuel the MQ-8C multiple times while operating in a combat environment without sacrificing much of its own fuel. This supports the joint force by keeping the MQ-8C on the battlespace longer.

Marines with Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron (HMH) 361 led the ADGR trial with the MQ-8C Fire Scout from Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron (HSC) 21, during Service Level Training Exercise (SLTE) 5-23, further developing the tactical application of the MQ-8C in littoral environments in support of troops anywhere in the world.

“Coming to Twentynine Palms was an opportunity to showcase that the MQ-8C can be a valuable platform in support of a Marine Air-Ground Task Force,” said Lt. Cmdr. Brian “Freq” Paskey, the HSC-21 training officer. “By conducting ADGR in addition to using a mobile control station, the MQ-8C can be operated to support Marines in nearly any environment.”

“For the MQ-8C, the U.S. is exploring the tactical application of an asset with expanding capabilities – they need to know what is working, and what they need to work on,” said Lt. Col. Nathaniel Griggs, Director of Aviation Combat and Integration (AC&I) at Marine Air-Ground Task Force Training Command. “We are in the desert, but the logistical, administrative, and most importantly the tactical lessons learned here are applicable to any clime and place.”

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