Smith said would be completed
before Fire Scout finished operational evaluation late this year.
Smith also noted that early in the
deployment, Halyburton had a damaged antenna. It was repaired in a
matter of days and data link reliability “jumped” once it was fixed.
During the deployment that
ended Aug. 3, the Fire Scouts flew
a total of 435 hours on 126 sorties
and had an 81 percent completion
rate, Smith said.
On April 12, a Fire Scout operating from Halyburton set a single-day flight record of 18 hours.
While conducting anti-piracy
missions off the Horn of Africa, the
Fire Scouts were prepared to provide
real-time surveillance of a suspicious
ship and transmit full-motion
imagery to an approaching boarding
party with a mobile receiver so they
would know what they would face.
The drones also guided a rescue
party to a disabled fishing boat, and
conducted a “proof of concept”
mission for SOCOM in the Fifth
Fleet area of responsibility.
“They asked us to see if we could
carry a payload for them,” Smith
said, without explaining what that
payload was. “All the outbriefs we received were positive.
They had a very good list of recommendations on
improvements, which we are assessing.”
Halyburton later moved into the Mediterranean to
help support the NATO-led campaign to stop Libyan
President Muammar Gaddafi’s violent oppression of
dissidents. For those missions, providing surveillance
for NATO airstrikes, the Navy sent two Fire Scouts
with different capabilities. One of those MQ-8s was
lost over Libya on June 21.
Smith said the ship had positive contact with the
Fire Scout when both radar and data link contact were
lost suddenly and there was no indication of a mechanical or operator error.
Shannon said the Navy investigation “confirmed it
was lost to enemy fire.” That loss would have no
impact on the program, he said.
The lost bird was replaced by another Fire Scout.
While on Halyburton, the Fire Scouts were supported by a detachment from Helicopter Antisubmarine
Squadron Light 42 (HSL- 42) and four Northrop
experts, Smith said.
NORTHROP GRUMMAN/RYAN COLEBOURN
An MQ-8B Fire Scout unmanned air vehicle conducts operations aboard the
guided-missile frigate USS Halyburton during its second at-sea deployment to
the U.S. Fifth and Sixth Fleet areas of responsibility.
“We did not see the same phenomena in Afghanistan
and on Halyburton. We had reliability in the 85-90 percent,” range, he said.
Speaking at the Association of Unmanned Vehicle
Systems International’s (AUVSI’s) Unmanned Systems
North America conference Aug. 17, Rear Adm.
William E. Shannon III, program executive for
Unmanned and Strike Weapons, said the Navy “agreed
with a lot of the issues raised” in the DOT&E report,
but “we have significant issues with some of the ways
they interpreted the data.”
For a five-hour counterpiracy patrol to be called an
incomplete mission because there was a five-minute
data link dropout did not make sense, Shannon said.
Also at AUVSI, George Vardoulakis, a Northrop
Grumman official involved in the Fire Scout program,
said some of the DOT&E complaints “were accurately
characterized for that point of time. But by the time we
were into the [Halyburton] deployment, many of those
had already been fixed.”
Smith, Shannon and Vardoulakis all said work was
ongoing to improve the data link connectivity, which