Making Its Mark
Fire Scout performance flies in the face of a scathing predeployment review
By OTTO KREISHER, Special Correspondent
critical report issued June 24 by
Michael Gilmore, director of the
Defense Operational Test and
Evaluation (DOT&E) office.
After evaluating Fire Scout’s predeployment testing and training at
The launch of the 10 “dress rehearsal flights” at
Webster Field were delayed an average of 67 minutes,
one mission was aborted in flight and another could
not complete all its assigned tasks because of data link
problems, he said.
Gilmore cited similar data link problems during the
Fire Scout’s initial missions off Halyburton.
Based on those problems, he said the drone “may be
useful for providing non-time-sensitive general area
surveillance and intelligence,” because when it gets on
station, “the payload provides the commander with a
valuable intelligence-gathering asset.
“However, because of the fragile nature of the data link
and difficulties meeting scheduled launch times, supported forces should not depend upon [Fire Scout] to provide
time-sensitive support to ground forces,” his report said.
Fire Scout also had an embarrassing episode in
August 2010, when controllers at Webster lost contact
with a drone and the Air Force was preparing to shoot it
down as it headed into restricted air space over
Washington before they regained control.
But, Smith said, the data link problems were resolved
early on the Halyburton deployment and Fire Scout’s
operational performance more than met expectations.
Fire Scout unmanned air systems returned from a seven-month
deployment aboard USS Halyburton on Aug. 3.
■ During that deployment, the rotary-wing aircraft flew a total of
435 hours on 126 sorties and had an 81 percent completion rate.
■ One Fire Scout set a single-day flight record of 18 hours.
■ The drones also guided a rescue party to a disabled fishing
boat, and conducted a “proof of concept” mission for U.S. Special
Operations Command in the Fifth Fleet area of responsibility.
The Navy’s MQ-8B Fire Scout rotary-wing un- manned air system (UAS) received a scathing review from the Pentagon’s top operational
evaluator during predeployment tests early this year, but
performed well during a recently completed operational
cruise on the guided-missile frigate USS Halyburton and
in ongoing operations in Afghanistan, the program’s
“We’re very proud of the missions it’s been able to
carry out … both aboard Halyburton and in Afghanistan,” Capt. Patrick Smith said.
Although the Northrop Grumman-built Fire Scout has
not completed its operational evaluation, Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR) is considering a more capable
version and is testing ways to arm the MQ-8B, Smith said.
Those steps are in response to requests from U.S.
Special Operations Command (SOCOM) and U.S. Fifth
Fleet, which evaluated Fire Scout during its deployment aboard Halyburton, Smith said from his office at
Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Md.
NAVAIR also has begun an analysis of alternatives
(AOA) for a larger unmanned helicopter to complement
Fire Scout, in cooperation with the Army, he said.
Those positive results from the operational use of at
least eight different MQ-8Bs contrast sharply with the