“WE PROVED WE COULD HIT ARIZONA. BUT THE REAL PURPOSE OF THAT [2005 FIRE SCOUT
WEAPON] TEST WAS TO DEMONSTRATE THE ABILITY TO CARRY THAT CLASS OF WEAPON.
THAT TEST PROVED TO BE EXTREMELY SUCCESSFUL. THE DATA WAS VERY GOOD. AND
THAT, IN ITSELF, ALLOWED THE NAVY TO HAVE THE CONFIDENCE THAT THE TECHNOLOGY
LEVEL WAS SUCH THAT THEY MOVED FORWARD WITH WEAPONS ON THEIR ROADMAP.”
— DOUG FRONIUS, FIRE SCOUT PROGRAM MANAGER, NORTHROP GRUMMAN AEROSPACE SYSTEMS
Delays in the LCS program led the Navy to propose
evaluating and then deploying the Fire Scout on a
frigate to prove the concept of operations in an operational environment.
Compared with the RQ-8A, the MQ-8B features an up-rated transmission system to take advantage of all of the
available horsepower of the engine, Wagner said. A fourth
rotor blade was added to boost performance and fuel
capacity was increased by 60 gallons. Wing sponsons
were added and antenna coverage was improved. A payload interface unit was added to improve the open architecture of the mission systems. The flight-control and
payload systems were separated to increase the flexibility
of the Fire Scout and minimize interference.
For the operational evaluation and upcoming deployment, the MQ-8B will be equipped with the Brite Star II
turret, which includes electro-optical and infrared sensors and a laser designator/range-finder.
A sensor designed to detect mines in shallow water,
the Coastal Battlefield Reconnaissance and Analysis
(COBRA), will be integrated and fielded on Fire Scout
in 2010, Wagner said.
“COBRA has been fully integrated into the current
hardware and software and has just completed system
integration and tests in our lab,” said Doug Fronius,
Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems’ Fire Scout
program manager. “It is planned to be flown on Fire
Scout for the first time in the June or July time period,
after we’ve completed the workups to be ready to go to
The program is in the earliest stages of selecting a
multimode maritime radar for the MQ-8B. Integration
of the radar is scheduled for 2011, Wagner said.
Last year, Northrop Grumman tested a Telephonics
RDR-1700B radar on a company-owned Fire Scout.
“A minor spiral after radar, or possibly coincident with
radar, will be AIS [Automatic Identification System],”
AIS is a transponder system required on ships with
greater than 300 tons displacement that transmits information on identity, course, speed and other data. It can be
used to increase the maritime domain awareness by identifying ships within the search horizon of the Fire Scout.
Fronius said that beyond AIS integration, the next spiral development will be weaponization of the Fire Scout.
In 2005, Northrop Grumman conducted test firings of
2.75-inch rockets at Yuma Proving Grounds, Ariz.
“We proved we could hit Arizona,” Fronius joked.
“But the real purpose of that test was to demonstrate
the ability to carry that class of weapon. That test
proved to be extremely successful. The data was very
good. And that, in itself, allowed the Navy to have the
confidence that the technology level was such that
they moved forward with weapons on their roadmap.”
The weapon for Fire Scout has not yet been selected nor funded. Potential rocket candidates include the
Viper Strike, the Low-Cost Guided-Image Rocket and
the Advanced Precision-Kill Weapon System.
Future unfunded payloads may include the
Common Very Lightweight Torpedo, a data relay communications package, electronic surveillance and a
detector for nuclear, biological and chemical threats.
The MQ-8B has flown more than 200 hours in its
system development and demonstration stage. The
first at-sea period of the technical evaluation was conducted in February by the program’s Integrated Test
Team and Air Test and Evaluation Squadron 21, the
Navy’s rotary-wing test unit, with flights at Webster
Field, near Patuxent River Md., and from McInerney.
The system equipment installed on the ship was “
validated and all components of the system were successfully tested, including shore-to-ship and ship-to-shore
handoff and control of aircraft,” Wagner said.
“Using relative route navigation, [the MQ-8B] performed three stern approaches to [the] ship, each followed by a starboard wave-off,” he said. “The air vehicle and system performed as expected.”
The final operational evaluation, currently scheduled
for June through August, will be conducted at Webster
Field and from McInerney by Air Test and Evaluation
Squadron One, a unit of the Navy Operational Test and
Evaluation Force, which will issue the final report on
the Fire Scout’s operational suitability and effectiveness.
For the initial deployment on McInerney, two MQ-8Bs
will be operated by a detachment of Helicopter
Antisubmarine Squadron Light 42, based at Mayport,