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Northern Islands - AOPS and the Fire Scout Programme


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At the risk of opening old wounds:

I came across this article about the US Navy swapping out their Schweizer based MQ-8B for the Bell 407 ARH (cf this discussion for the ARH info) in the Fire Scout VTUAS programme.  Essentially they are going to move Loachman permanently into a Sea Can.

I found this particularly interesting in light of discussions about the Littoral Combat Ship and the Arctic Offshore Patrol Ship , related projects in my mind because ultimately they are hospitable platforms from which governments intend to conduct sovereign activities in littoral waters.  The AOPS is optimized for ice-laden waters rather than tropical waters but both expect to operate under “friendly” skies.  Consequently I find the LCS to be an interesting analog with which to compare the AOPS.

The LCS is often criticised because of its lack of weaponry, as is the AOPS.  The LCS only has a 57mm Bofors, 4 12.7mm machine guns, and an 11 cell SAM system with an option for three more weapons systems to include 2 30mm cannons and a SSM system.  The AOPS only has a 25mm cannon and a pair of 12.7s.  Recently the criticisms of the LCS became louder when the planned SSM system (the NLOS-M) was replaced with the Griffin missile, a smaller shorter range system.


These criticisms often overlook the fact that the LCS is intended to operate 3 Fire Scout MQ-8Bs as well as up to 2 MH-60R/S helicopters.  In addition the LCS will also operate the Fleet Class USV.  One thing the Griffin can do that the NLOS-M couldn’t do (in addition to hitting its targets), is be deployed from all three of these platforms meaning that the LCS can effectively engage targets at 110 nm (the comms range of the Fire Scout) and over 200 nm (the radius of the MH-60).  In addition both the Fire Scouts and the MH-60s lift surface scan radars and EO/IR systems into the air and keep them there greatly increasing the surveillance area.  When launched from an aerial platform the “Short Range” Griffin can achieve a range of 15 nm.

Some of the problems with the Fire Scout though, was that it only had a payload of 600 lbs (and thus one of the reasons for a small missile like the Griffin) and an endurance of 8 hours and it was limited by line of sight comms to 110 nm.  The USN figures to solve those problems by upgrading to the 407 which will result in the ability to lift 3200 lbs (530% payload increase), conduct ISR patrols for 16 hours (200% endurance increase), and communicate over the horizon with the ability to hand off control to a third party (infinite comms increase).

Which brings me around to the AOPS, and the need to conduct operations in the North ..... and FWSAR......

What if the AOPS spec were modified to do the following:
Strengthen the landing deck to handle the CH-147F (house-keeping issue because it wasn’t in the arsenal at the time the original SOR was written)
Adjust the hangar accommodations to handle 2 Autonomous 407s equipped with Clearwater radar and EO/IR as well as the Coast Guard 412 anticipated?

The intent, obviously is to increase surveillance and, secondarily, assuming a willingness to arm the 407s, the ability to act against “constabulary” level threats like smugglers, poachers and terrorists.

Currently the AOPS is also to be able to support the CH-148 and land and refuel the CH-149.

Suppose the CH-148s, like the CH-149s and possibly the CH-147s were, for domestic operations, considered a shore based asset, centrally located at some place like Resolute.  When actually called out for operations they could deploy forward to the AOPS at their extreme range, refuel at the AOPS, and in an emergency, lock down on AOPS flight deck.  Otherwise they would recover to their Forward Operating Location ashore.  It seems to me that this would improve the maintainability of the aircraft, the flexibility of response and creature comforts for the Air Force types flying those missions.

Meanwhile, with a 16 hr range and over the horizon comms then the 407s could cruise from Lancaster Sound to Melville Sound, launching from Resolute or the AOPS and recovering to the launch site or any sister site/vessel (including Coast Guard vessels like the Diefenbaker - which should also be equipped with a CH-147 capable flight deck).

A pair or four of Resolute based FWSAR aircraft equipped as suggested elsewhere, would add to both the ability to keep the North under surveillance and respond effectively to a variety of incidents.

Meanwhile the CP-140 LRPAs could focus their limited and valuable time on Blue Water and ASW operations.  They, like the F-35s, or a CH-147 borne Arctic Response Platoon(s), could be vectored in when the situation required.

The point here, ultimately, is how best can we "nest" our various systems so that they all can act as part of an integrated whole.