Rumors of the death of the MQ- 8 apparently were greatly exaggerated: after zeroing out the program in its fiscal 2015 budget submission, the Navy
now is calling for a return to buying the Fire Scout.
But not the smaller B variant that has been so iconic
in its recent deployments aboard frigates and, lately,
the littoral combat ship (LCS) — the Navy appears to
have completely moved on to the bigger MQ-8C, and
all of the perks that come with having a larger
unmanned aircraft with more payload.
In fact, the MQ-8C is very much alive on the operational front and, slowly but surely, inching toward the
fleet. In December, an MQ-8C flew for the first time at sea
off the guided-missile destroyer USS Jason Dunham after a
year of testing on land. In testing off the coast of Virginia,
the aircraft made 22 takeoffs and 22 precision landings.
In written responses to questions from Seapower, CAPT
Jeff Dodge, MQ- 8 program manager, said the MQ-8C
essentially will be the same system as the B variant in a
larger air vehicle, providing up to eight hours on station
and a range of 150 nautical miles with more than 700
pounds of payload capacity — 30 percent more range,
twice the endurance and up to three times the payload
capacity of the B variant — while sharing 90 percent of the
avionics and payload commonality
with its smaller cousin.
The MQ-8C, which is based on a
Bell 407 airframe rather than the
smaller Schweizer 333 that the MQ-
8B is based on, the C variant has performed well so far, Dodge said, flying
more than 400 flight hours during its
developmental test period.
“The MQ-8B and MQ-8C con-
cept of operations are very similar,
He said the MQ- 8 will “continue to embark on LCS
during fiscal 2015 and 2016 deployments.”
So does the Navy need the MQ-8B now that it has
the bigger, seemingly better in every respect MQ-8C?
Absolutely, said Dodge, noting that the smaller Fire
Scout will remain in operation for the duration of its
service life, supporting small surface combatant mis-
sions, although it will be replaced by the MQ-8C
through “natural attrition.”
MQ-8Bs logged more than 5,000 flight hours in Af-
ghanistan and have been deployed a half-dozen times
aboard Navy frigates supporting anti-piracy, counter-
narcotics and intelligence-gathering missions.
The MQ- 8 program development has gone well, and
the aircraft has appeared to perform admirably during
deployments on frigates and, eventually, the LCS, although one was shot down during a reconnaissance
mission in Libya in 2011 and the 8Bs temporarily were
grounded in 2012 following crashes in Afghanistan
and Africa in the same week.
As the MQ-8C gets closer to initial operations,
the Navy has gone back to buying them
By DANIEL P. TAYLOR, Special Correspondent
Flying High Again
Despite a rollercoaster budget ride over the past few years, the
Navy’s MQ- 8 unmanned helicopter program is moving forward,
with the service transitioning to the larger C variant.
; The MQ-8C has 30 percent more range, twice the endurance
and up to three times the payload capacity of the B variant.
; “The increased capability of the MQ-8C will allow the fleet to do
more with less,” according to the Navy’s MQ- 8 program manager.
; Whether funding support for the MQ-8C program will continue
in the current budget climate remains uncertain.