In a taste of things to come, an unmanned MQ-8B Fire Scout has provided tracking data for a Harpoon Block 1C missile fired from the Littoral Combat Ship USS Coronado (LCS 4), helping it reach its target a "significant distance" over the ship's visual horizon. The live-fire exercise took place on August 22 off the coast of Guam during which the drone rotorcraft worked in conjunction with an MH-60S Seahawk helicopter.

As drones and other robotic devices become more capable and numerous, the part they play in the armed forces becomes more significant. Already fifth-generation fighter aircraft like the F-35 Lightning II are seen less as direct combatants than as command and control platforms, and even manned submarines may one day be relegated to coordinating drone fleets of underwater warriors.

As military planners become more familiar with drones, they come up with more uses for them. It's a bit like the transition of computers from mammoth, expensive mainframes that experts had only the haziest idea what to do with to the explosion of applications following the microchip revolution that put a PC in every home and office.

This is essentially what happened with the USS Coronado. The Harpoon test marks a significant milestone because it shows a new dimension in drone application – not just as an observation platform or a remotely controlled weapon launcher, but as part of a team to enhance the capabilities of an already existing missile system widely used by the United States and allied powers. In addition, it provided a demonstration of the capabilities of the new LCS class of warships when working with UAVs.

"LCS will play an important role in protecting shipping and vital U.S. interests in the maritime crossroads," says Rear Admiral Don Gabrielson, commander, Task Force 73. "Its ability to pair unmanned vehicles like Fire Scout with Harpoon missiles to strike from the littoral shadows matters – there are over 50,000 islands in the arc from the Philippines to India; those shallow crossroads are vital world interests. 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."

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