For most missions, HSL- 42’s
SH- 60 pilots “flew” the drones and
its helicopter systems operators
monitored the sensors.
But some of the missions were
flown by Senior Chief Petty Officer
Stephen Diets, the Navy’s only
enlisted UAS operator. Diets, a
fleet liaison representative from
NAVAIR, has a private pilot’s
license and previous training on
the RQ-8B Fire Scout.
While the Fire Scouts on
Halyburton still were engaged in the
Libyan mission, three MQ-8Bs and
two ground control stations were
sent into Afghanistan, achieving
initial operational capability May
24, Smith said. The aircraft are supporting U.S. and allied forces in
Regional Command North, a mainly mountainous area along Afghanistan’s northern border.
The Fire Scouts are being flown
by Navy Reservists, who trained at
Webster before the deployment, while Northrop technicians maintain the aircraft and serve as mission payload
operators, Smith said.
As of mid-August, the three air vehicles had flown
more than 950 hours and were providing more than 10
hours a day of full-motion video, while obtaining mission
completion rates in the high 90 percent range, he said.
In Afghanistan, Smith said the fact that the MQ-8Bs
had such a “small footprint,” and did not require a
long runway and the large security force that would be
needed to guard such a base, “was a big plus up there.”
The Fire Scouts were expected to stay in Afghanistan
for at least a year, he said.
Although the MQ-8Bs are intended to be key parts of
the various mission packages for the Littoral Combat
Ships (LCSs), no deployment on an LCS currently is
planned. Fire Scout has conducted “dynamic interface”
tests aboard LCS 1, Freedom, and similar tests on LCS 2,
Independence, are expected in fiscal 2012, Smith said.
The drones are scheduled to deploy aboard another
frigate next year.
The Navy has received 14 of the 168 Fire Scouts
currently planned, Smith said. The Navy has funds to
buy three Fire Scouts in fiscal 2011 and has requested
funding for 12 in 2012, 10 in 2013, 13 in 2014, 10 in
2015 and 12 more in fiscal 2016.
Meanwhile, NAVAIR is studying options to respond
to SOCOM’s urgent request to provide longer time on
station, he said. Options being considered include
MQ-8B Fire Scouts aboard USS Halyburton are ready to be offloaded at Naval
Station Mayport, Fla., Aug. 3 after completing a seven-month deployment. Initial
data link problems were resolved early on in the deployment and Fire Scouts’
operational performance more than met expectations, according to program
officials. One, however, was shot down over Libya.
adding improvements to the current Fire Scout, or
using the larger Bell 407 commercial helicopter body,
Although Smith seemed to favor the latter approach,
Shannon said no decision had been made on how to
meet SOCOM’s requirements.
They hope to have the enhanced-endurance aircraft,
tentatively designated MQ-8C, available by 2014,
The command also is working toward arming Fire
Scout in response to a request from Fifth Fleet for an
armed vehicle within 18 months, Smith said. That
would make Fire Scout “the first weaponized UAS for
the Navy,” he said.
Smith said the Advanced Precision Kill Weapon
System from BAE Systems was the preferred choice
because it already had safety certification for shipboard
use. But Northrop also is testing Raytheon’s Griffin
missile, he said.
Meanwhile, NAVAIR is conducting an AOA for a
bigger, more capable rotary wing drone in a program
called the Medium Range Maritime UAS (MRMUAS).
The Army, which dropped out of the Fire Scout program when its Future Combat Systems effort was canceled, is engaged in MRMUAS, Smith said.
Northrop is proposing the Fire-X, which uses Fire
Scout control systems in the Bell 407, and Boeing is
offering its A-160 Hummingbird, both of which are flying. The program has a target date of 2019. ■