When it comes to how advanced a sensor can be aboard an unmanned aircraft, payload capac- ity can make a big difference — and there may
be no better example than the MQ-8C Fire Scout.
The Navy’s main reason for developing the MQ-8C
aircraft, based on the Bell 407 airframe, was to provide
an “endurance upgrade” to the MQ-8B, which is based
on Schweizer 333 airframe, allowing it to stay on station
longer. But as it turns out, the upgrade also has benefits
in terms of the sensors on the aircraft, Capt. Jeff Dodge,
manager of the Multi-Mission Tactical Unmanned Air
System program office, told Seapower.
“That increased payload capability, we have a little
bit more power, can carry more weight and have a little
more volume we can put on the aircraft,” Dodge said.
“That opens us up for more payloads.”
And the Navy is getting closer to seeing just how that
translates into more capability in the field, as the MQ-8C
recently wrapped up an operational assessment. Its small-
er predecessor, the MQ-8B, has been on deployment for
years. After starting off with frigates, it has transitioned to
operating off the littoral combat ship
(LCS). Currently, the MQ-8B is on
deployment with USS Fort Worth,
working alongside MH-60R Seahawk
helicopters in Singapore.
Even though the Navy has fully
transitioned to producing MQ-
8Cs, the remaining MQ-8Bs are not
being neglected, as the Navy has
just finished a quick-reaction
assessment of the MQ-8B’s radar
capability and is moving to fielding
it in March, Dodge said.
But all eyes are on the MQ-8C
now as it gets ready to run some
tests off LCSs. The MQ-8C has
transitioned from a rapid development capability to an official program of record, and now the Navy
is producing nothing but Cs.
“What we’ve done in the last year is finished all
developmental testing and we did an operational assess-
ment that finished in November,” Dodge said. “It came
out with really good results. We got a couple of really
long flights out of it, 11-plus hours. We were really
happy with its performance.”
Leslie Smith, Northrop Grumman’s vice president for
medium-range tactical systems, said in an e-mail that the
company is busy continuing to “refine the Fire Scout un-
manned air system, improving reliability and maintainabi-
lity, integrating sensors to expand the current mission set.
“The MQ-8B is currently deployed and redefining
how surface combatants do maritime surveillance and
precision targeting,” he added. “The MQ-8C Fire Scout
is the Navy’s next-generation unmanned helicopter
with a larger airframe that significantly increases range
and endurance (more than double) and payload capacity (more than triple). MQ-8C meets and exceeds customer requirements and stands ready to deploy. Both
the MQ-8B and MQ-8C Fire Scout’s complementary
Fire Scout Upgrade
MQ-8C’s larger size gives program more options when it comes to sensors
By DANIEL P. TAYLOR, Special Correspondent
The MQ-8C Fire Scout was developed to provide an “endurance
upgrade” to the Navy’s MQ-8B, but time on station is just one of
the capabilities being enhanced.
; The MQ-8C will feature a different radar than the MQ-8B and
take advantage of the fact that the C has a larger aperture on it
and, therefore, can support a bigger sensor payload.
; Because of the MQ-8C’s larger payload, it gives the program
; The program already has done work with electronic warfare
payloads and looked at the possibility of some anti-submarine
warfare payloads, as well as the addition of the Advanced
Precision Kill Weapon System.