The U.S. Navy broke ground this week on another drone milestone when an MQ-8B Fire Scout helped track a Harpoon anti-ship missile fired from the deck of the trimaran Littoral Combat Ship USS Coronado.
The service conducted the successful live-fire exercise on Monday off the coast of Guam, which North Korea recently threatened to attack with ballistic missiles. Meanwhile, Iran has dispatched small drones to harass U.S. Navy warships in the Persian Gulf.
Thanks to the tracking assistance from the Fire Scout unmanned rotorcraft made by Northrop Grumman Corp. and an MH-60S Sea Hawk helicopter developed by Lockheed Martin Corp.'s Sikorsky unit, the Harpoon Block 1C missile made by Boeing Co. successfully destroyed its target over the horizon, giving the LCS more firepower, according to a release from the Navy. (Scroll down to see video of the launch.)
"LCS will play an important role in protecting shipping and vital U.S. interests in the maritime crossroads," Rear Adm. Don Gabrielson, commander of Task Force 73, said in a statement.
"Its ability to pair unmanned vehicles like Fire Scout with Harpoon missiles to strike from the littoral shadows matters -- there are over fifty thousand islands in the arc from the Philippines to India; those shallow crossroads are vital world interests," he added. "Harpoon and Fire Scout showcase one of the growing tool combinations in our modular LCS capability set, and this complex shot demonstrates why LCS has Combat as its middle name."
The U.S. Defense Department plans to spend $1.2 billion in fiscal 2018 to buy another Littoral Combat Ship, versions of which are made by Lockheed Martin Corp., based in Bethesda, Maryland, and Austal, based in Australia.
"Both shipbuilders continue to deliver LCS sea frames significantly behind schedule and in excess of cost targets," auditors with the Government Accountability Office, the investigative arm of Congress, recently concluded in a report from March.
Lawmakers in the Senate have agreed with that quantity, though they proposed cutting funding for the ship's mission modules by nearly $100 million, while their counterparts in the House of Representatives have proposed increasing that quantity of ships to be purchased to three. They haven't yet agreed on the figures in a compromise version of the National Defense Authorization Act, which sets policy and spending targets.
The Pentagon plans to buy a total of 40 LCSs and frigates, as well as 64 mission modules, for a total cost of $33.8 billion, according to the GAO report.
Check out video of the Harpoon firing below: