NAVY PREPARES UNMANNED
HELICOPTER FOR ISR MISSIONS
By RICHARD R. BURGESS, Managing Editor
Later this year, would-be
will have another surveillance system to worry about. In the
fall, the guided-missile frigate USS
McInerney will deploy with the
U.S. Fourth Fleet to the U.S. Southern Command’s area of operations
carrying two MQ-8B Fire Scout
vertical takeoff unmanned aerial
The first deployment of the
autonomous Fire Scout will take
place after the summer completion
of the operational evaluation of the Navy’s largest shipboard UAV, said Rear Adm. William Shannon, the
Navy’s program executive officer for strike weapons
and unmanned aviation (PEO Strike).
“We look forward to lots of lessons learned,” he said,
noting that the deployment will be an opportunity to
work through a concept of operations for unmanned
aerial systems and shipboard helicopters.
A successful completion of the operational evaluation will result in an initial operating capability of the
system late this year and clear the way for a Department of Defense decision for full-rate production, possibly before 2010.
The Fire Scout, built by Northrop Grumman, is a
small, unmanned helicopter designed to operate from the
flight decks of surface warships and provide intelligence,
reconnaissance and surveillance for anti-submarine warfare, anti-surface warfare and mine countermeasure
operations. Its surveillance capabilities also “will be folded into maritime interdiction operations,” said Chuck
Wagner, PEO Strike spokesman.
‘Dirty, Dull and Dangerous’
The MQ-8B Fire Scout unmanned aerial system will deploy to the
U.S. Southern Command area of operations later this year following
its operational evaluation.
■ The full-rate production decision rests on a successful evaluation.
■ Spiral development of additional sensors is on track.
■ A broader use of the Fire Scout is possible by U.S. and international navies.
“The Fire Scout will be used to augment, rather
than replace, manned aircraft in the fleet by performing 3D [dull, dirty and dangerous} missions at lower
flight-hour costs, freeing up manned aircraft for more
appropriate missions,” he said.
The Fire Scout currently carries electro-optical sensors, UHF radios and a data link to relay video to a receiver station on a ship. With a 200-pound payload, it has an
endurance of eight hours and a 20-minute reserve of fuel.
The UAV can carry a maximum payload of 600
pounds with a reduced endurance. It can hover, fly at
speeds up to 120 knots and operate at altitudes projected up to 20,000 feet. Using the Global Positioning
System, the MQ-8B is autonomously controlled by a digital computer at a ground or shipboard station.
The MQ-8B is an upgrade of the RQ-8A, a program
begun in 2000. Development of the MQ-8B — for
which the RQ-8A was used to reduce technological
risk — began in 2004 and the UAV was adopted as an
element of the three mission packages of the Navy’s
new Littoral Combat Ship (LCS).
A partially disassembled MQ-8B Fire Scout unmanned aerial vehicle waits to be loaded aboard the guided-missile frigate
USS McInerney Dec. 10 at Mayport Naval Station, Fla., for a series of test and evaluation flights. Later this year,
McInerney will carry two Fire Scouts on their first mission deployment to provide maritime surveillance in U.S. Southern
Command’s area of operations.