By Capt. Patrick Smith
Fire Scout Program Manager
The Fire Scout system has proven itself in numerous and diverse operational deployments, supporting troops on the ground in Afghanistan, completing weapons Rapid Deployment Capability (RDC) testing with the Advanced Precision Kill Weapon System (APKWS), continuing deployments on Guided Missile Frigates (FFG) class ships, and now preparing to welcome a new air vehicle to its ranks. This week the newest Fire Scout variant, MQ-8C Fire Scout, will take to the skies for the first time.
Our MQ-8C is an RDC effort in response to an urgent request to provide maritime based Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) at extended ranges from host ships in less than 24 months. First flight is set to occur this month, 18 months after the contract award to prime integrator, Northrop- Grumman.
Leveraging off the existing MQ-8 Fire Scout infrastructure, the C variant provides the Navy with double the endurance and triple the payload capability of its predecessor, allowing for 15+ hours of flight time and over 2,600 lbs. of payload. This increase in capability will allow us the opportunity to put additional weight, perhaps sensors, on the aircraft.
With the MQ-8C, we took a commercial Bell 407 helicopter and modified it to include additional fuel capability, upgraded engines and improved reliability to provide increased range and endurance and then integrated the majority of the MQ-8B avionics and payloads onto that air frame. This method allows us to maintain the entire infrastructure we have already invested in.
With its first flight, the aircraft will enter a rigorous test schedule before being deployed at sea. Our goal is to be ready for deployment by the fourth quarter of fiscal year 2014. The MQ-8C will complete ground testing at Naval Air Station Pt. Mugu and also be integrated into the Guided Missile Destroyer (DDG) for maritime assessment.
When the commanders issued a request for the rapid deployment of 28 MQ-8C Fire Scout aircraft, I saw an opportunity for the team to shine. They have met my expectations and I am excited to see how we will continue to perform in the future.
MQ-8C will allow us to better support maritime ISR operations, reduce impacts to shipboard manning and provide increased capability with less aircraft. We’ve had our challenges, as any other research, test and development program has, but I am very proud of the team for how far we’ve come and how we’ve reached this day.