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Naval aviation leaders brief rotary, unmanned platforms at Sea Air Space Expo

The program executive officers heading up the Navy’s air anti-submarine, assault and special mission platforms as well as its unmanned and strike weapons programs briefed industry and media members on their recent accomplishments and future milestones Monday at the 2019 Sea Air Space Expo.

A decision on whether the next presidential helicopter, the VH-92A, can move into production is slated for the end of this month, said Maj. Gen. Gregory L. Masiello, Program Executive Officer for Air Anti-Submarine Warfare, Assault & Special Mission Programs.

Masiello said the program is scheduled for its Milestone C decision on May 30, and that it expects favorable results from a recently completed early operational assessment in which test pilots flew two VH-92As every other day for about a month out of Patuxent River Naval Air Station (NAS), Maryland.

“I believe that things went reasonably well, and the reason why I say that is I know where the aircraft took off from and where they landed every day, and it was where they were supposed to,” Masiello said. “The feedback, if you look at the gripes or things that you would write up when you’re flying on the aircraft, it’s relatively positive, so I see no reason to question where we’re going on that program.”

In response to questions after his briefing, Masiello said the Heavy Lift Helicopters Program is addressing technical issues discovered on the CH-53K King Stallion last summer during flight testing at Patuxent River NAS. In addition, the program has sent one King Stallion Marine Corps Air Station New River, North Carolina, so that the Marines there can learn as much about the aircraft as possible prior to its first deployment.

“We’ve handed it over to the Marines, not to fly it, but to basically take it apart and verify all the maintenance manuals and procedures,” Masiello said.

The Marines largely disassembled the aircraft, put it back together and provided feedback on everything from tools and procedures to access panels and handholds.

“Things that, normally, we would field an aircraft and send it out on its first deployment, and then we’d get feedback from the fleet and go, why didn’t we catch this in operational test, or why didn’t developmental test get it?” Masiello said. “In this case, I think we’re applying those lessons learned. We’re giving it to the fleet upfront and early and feeding that information in.”

Meanwhile, the first flight of the unmanned MQ-25A Stingray is expected soon following the April 28 transfer of the test vehicle from Boeing’s facility near St. Louis to a nearby regional airport, said Rear Adm. Brian Corey, Program Executive Officer for Unmanned Aviation and Strike Weapons (PEO(U&W)).

“The team is working through the software checks and the clearance with the [Federal Aviation Administration] and the [Federal Communications Commission] to make sure when we operate the aircraft we operate it safely and we bring her home,” he said.

“CNO has made it clear that we achieve initial operating capability as soon as possible,” Corey said.

The Navy is modifying four of its carriers to be able to integrate the MQ-25A into its air wings, but it is too soon to speculate on which of those carriers will deploy with the Stingray first, he added.

“If we are as successful as we intend to be, and the Navy keeps its focus on ‘as soon as I have it, I want to use it,’ then we’ll go over the horizon as soon as we’re ready,” Corey said.

Corey said a relatively new initiative undertaken by PEO(U&W)—in partnership with the Marines as well as the Army and Air Force—is how to counter the growing threat of adversary unmanned aircraft systems (UAS).

“We’ve been doing [UAS] for a long time, however, it’s a pretty tough problem,” he said.   Much like the [improvised explosive device] threat, it is an adaptable problem.”

There are a series of upcoming counter-UAS demonstrations and test events scheduled on both coasts, Corey said.

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