Northrop Grumman’s new autonomous helicopter, the MQ-8C Fire Scout, has been deployed with the US Navy.
The aircraft will initially be used aboard USS Milwaukee (LCS-5) by Sea Combat Squadron 22, Detachment 5.
Fire Scout is designed to provide greater organic intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance and targeting (ISR&T) capabilities for the military using its increased speed, endurance and payload capacity.
It’s also built to deliver more than 10 hours of endurance over a range of approximately 1,000 nautical miles, supporting a number of mission sets, including real-time over-the-horizon targeting.
“This is a significant milestone in the MQ-8C Fire Scout program,” Captain Eric Soderberg of the US Navy said.
“The transition from the MQ-8B to the MQ-8C Fire Scout has brought improved sensors and more than doubles the on-station endurance.
“Advances in Fire Scout’s capabilities further our successful integration of unmanned platforms at sea and the Navy and Marine Corps unmanned campaign plan.”
Lance Eischeid, director of the Fire Scout program at Northrop Grumman, said the business’ partnership with the US Navy was critical in developing the aircraft’s autonomous capabilities.
“With the ability to operate from a range of surface ships, MQ-8C Fire Scout is a powerful platform that allows the US Navy to increase the detection and tracking of targets through its onboard sensors and integration with manned assets,” Eischeid said.
MQ-8C Fire Scout uses a Bell 407 commercial aircraft for its airframe in a bid to improve affordability by reducing life cycle costs, including initial development, supply chain and flight hour reliability.
The system is also equipped with a Leonardo AN/ZPY-8 (Osprey) radar, enabling it to detect and automatically track contacts at long ranges and in challenging conditions.
The autonomous aircraft was designed in San Diego, California, and Fort Worth, Texas, by a joint Northrop Grumman-Bell team and manufactured in Ozark, Alabama, and Moss Point, Mississippi.
The MQ-8C achieved initial operational capability in June 2019 and is expected to begin replacing the MQ-8B variant on upcoming deployments.