Navy’s MQ-8C Fire Scout to Begin Initial Operational Test Next Week
By RICHARD R. BURGESS, Managing Editor
NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. — The Navy’s new version of the MQ-8 Fire Scout vertical-takeoff unmanned aerial vehicle is scheduled to begin its initial operational test and evaluation on April 16, the Navy’s program manager said.
Also, the MQ-8C is scheduled to achieve initial operational capability by the end of the calendar year, Capt. Jeff Dodge told reporters April 9 at the Navy League’s Sea-Air-Space Exposition.
The MQ-8C, built by Northrop Grumman, is an upgraded version of the MQ-8B and is based on the Bell 407 helicopter rather than the Schweizer helicopter upon which the MQ-8B is based. The MQ-8C carries more fuel has a longer range (150 nautical miles as opposed to 110) and a greater payload (300 pounds as opposed to 200).
The MQ-8C is being fitted with the Leonardo ZPY-8 radar instead of the ZPY-4(v)1 of the MQ-8B. The MQ-8C also can be equipped with Link 16 for data communications and with the Minotaur mission management software.
The Navy procured 30 MQ-8Bs and now is buying 40 MQ-8Cs, 19 of which have been delivered and 14 are under contract. The MQ-8B has so far deployed on frigates and littoral combat ships, as well as to Afghanistan.
Dodge also announced that his program office is working to install a Fire Scout control and data links on the new expeditionary sea base ship USNS Hershel “Woody” Williams, which will represent a further expansion of the Fire Scout platforms. The Fire Scout or some successor is planned for the future guided-missile frigate.
Dodges said the endurance advantage of the MQ-8C is less fatiguing to a ship’s crew because it has to set flight quarters less often.
The Navy has tested the Advanced Precision Kill Weapons System (APKWS) of 2.75-inch rockets on the MQ-8B, but further weapon testing in on hold. Because of the requirement to assemble the APKWS on a ship, the Navy has to determine a ship’s magazine capacity and the mix of desired weapons to determine the feasibility of storing and assembling the APKWS. The MQ-8C should be able to handle the standard seven-shot rocket launcher used by the U.S. military. Dodge also said his office is working on a plan to develop a plan to order the APKWS as an all-up round requiring no further assembly.
In addition to the APKWS, future requirements for the Fire Scout could be mine countermeasures and anti-submarine warfare. The DVS-1 Coastal Battlefield Reconnaissance and Analysis system for beach mine hunting achieved initial operational capability on the MQ-8B in October. Dodge said his office is looking at installation of a magnetic anomaly detector for hunting submarines.
Last year, the MQ-8B provided initial targeting for a Harpoon missile shot from USS Coronado and laser designation for a Hellfire missile shot from an MH-60S helicopter.