The “Pathfinders” of Helicopter Maritime Strike Squadron (HSM) 35, Det. 1, the Navy’s first composite expeditionary helicopter squadron, are currently deployed aboard the littoral combat ship USS Fort Worth (LCS 3) during her maiden 16-month rotational deployment to the Indo-Asia-Pacific region.
HSM-35, Det. 1, is a self-contained portion of the surface warfare mission package on Fort Worth consisting of one MH-60R Sea Hawk helicopter and one MQ-8B Fire Scout unmanned aircraft system.
The MH-60R brings search and rescue capabilities, communication relay, and can carry a potential payload of hellfire missiles and a crew-served 50-caliber machine gun to littoral combat ships. Additionally, the MH-60R is equipped with multi-mode radar that includes Inverse Synthetic Aperture Radar and a forward looking infrared electro-optical device, which was used recently during the search for AirAsia Flight QZ8501. The unarmed MQ-8B’s primary sensor is a forward looking infrared camera (FLIR). Together the MH-60R and MQ-8B provide enhanced maritime domain awareness with the MQ-8B complementing the MH-60 by extending the detachment’s range and endurance capabilities.
The 24 Sailors in the detachment are cross-trained to conduct all maintenance and supply for both aircraft. In addition to the helicopter advanced readiness program, as well as the normal workup cycle, the detachment must complete Fire Scout-specific training to fully integrate the unmanned aircraft system into their operations.
The first crew swap is scheduled for mid-February, which is when the Pathfinders will rotate to another task, along with LCS Crew 104, after conducting turnover and sharing lessons learned with incoming HSM-35, Det. 2.
Fort Worth is currently in port Singapore, its maintenance and logistics hub, after having recently returned from supporting the Indonesian-led search to locate the AirAsia plane. Throughout the ship’s 13 days on station in the Java Sea, HSM 35, Det. 1, conducted more than 90 hours of search operations using the MH-60R, covering more than 2,500 square nautical miles.
Over the course of its deployment, Fort Worth will increase LCS operations in the region by visiting more ports, engaging more regional navies during exercises like Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training, and expanding LCS capabilities with tools like the Fire Scout.
Image: US Navy