The U.S. Navy’s Northrop Grumman MQ-8C Fire Scout, an unmanned helicopter having autonomous take-off and landing capability, is finally ready for action. The military branch declared its next-generation helicopter drone has reached initial operational capability (IOC), on June 28, clearing the way for fleet operations and training.
The MQ-8 Fire Scout is designed to provide reconnaissance, situational awareness, aerial fire support and precision targeting support for ground, air and sea forces. The initial RQ-8A version was based on the Schweizer 330, while the enhanced MQ-8B was derived from the Schweizer 333.
The new, Bell 407-based variant, MQ-8C is built by Northrop Grumman at Bell’s Mirabel, Quebec. It is a larger and longer-endurance variant of the MQ-8B vehicle that can operate up to 12 hours on station depending on payload. The new version has a payload capacity of about 318 kg (701 lb), roughly three times the payload as the MQ-8B.
In addition, the unmanned helicopter packs new radar with a larger field of view and a range of digital modes including weather detection, air-to-air targeting and a ground moving target indicator (GMTI).
“This milestone is a culmination of several years of hard work and dedication from our joint government and industry team,” Capt. Eric Soderberg, Fire Scout program manager said in a statement. “We are excited to get this enhanced capability out to the fleet.”
It provides unique situational awareness and precision target support for the Navy. The Navy said the MQ-8C has flown over 1,500 hours with more than 700 sorties so far. Over the next few years, Northrop Grumman will continue sending the MQ-8C production deliveries to Navy to complete a total of 38 aircraft.
Don’t expect the aircraft on duty for a while! It is scheduled to deploy with LCS in the fiscal year 2021 while the MQ-8B, the older version conducts operations aboard LCS in 5th and 7th Fleets.