But the program has faced plenty of turbulence
within the walls of the Pentagon. The Navy has gone
back and forth on whether to keep buying the aircraft
or shelve it in favor of other priorities.
In its fiscal 2013 budget proposal, the Navy had
called for buying 21 Fire Scouts between fiscal 2015
and 2017. But two years later, in the 2015 budget
request, the Navy had zeroed out the entire program,
deleting the 17 MQ-8Cs planned for 2016.
Now, with the most recent budget request, the Navy is
once again asking for Fire Scouts, after being given five by
Congress for fiscal 2015. The service is requesting two per
year beginning in fiscal 2016 and continuing through the
remainder of the five-year Future Years Defense Plan.
So will funding support for the MQ-8C program remain in this uncertain budget climate? It’s hard to tell,
said Phil Finnegan, director of corporate analysis for
the Teal Group.
“The commitment to further large purchases of the C is
really not clear,” he said. “It appeared in the 2016 budget,
I think two, which is encouraging, but the Fire Scout has
faced more problems with commitment than almost any
other program. It’s been off and on with the Army and the
Navy, and they moved from the B to the C.”
There also are some questions about the exportability
of the new C variant. Manufacturer Northrop Grumman
had been making plans to export the system when it was
based on the B variant, but now that the company is
building the MQ-8C, “it presents more passport control
issues in terms of MTCR [Mission Technology Control
Regime], and so it’s very uncertain,” Finnegan said.
As for the Navy, the service is likely to take advantage
of all assets available and continue using both variants, although the C certainly has advantages over the B, he said.
In the meantime, there still is plenty of work to do to
make sure the MQ-8C is an effective platform. T.J.
Ortega, a Northrop Grumman spokesman, said the MQ-
8C recently completed flight testing at Naval Air Station
Point Mugu, Calif., and that a number of airframes are
currently in production, with three fully operational aircraft so far delivered to the Navy and 19 under contract.
Five more likely are to be added to that contract this year.
Last April, Northrop was awarded a $43.8 million
contract for the production and delivery of five MQ-
8Cs and one ground control station.
While the focus is shifting to the MQ-8C, that’s not
to say the MQ-8B is not performing well in operations.
“It’s providing unprecedented situation awareness
and precision targeting support,” Ortega said. “Both
aircraft will complement the Navy’s manned air assets
on the LCS.”
Asked about potential for a for a follow-on “MQ-
8D,” Ortega said only that the company is always
“looking to improve its current aircraft systems and
develop ‘the next big thing.’”
As far as the international market, Northrop is work-
ing with the Navy and other government agencies to
ready it for sale to other customers, he said. ;
43 WWW.SEAPOWERMAGAZINE.ORG SEAPOWER / MAY 2015
An MQ-8C Fire Scout unmanned helicopter prepares to land on the guided-missile destroyer USS Jason Dunham for the
first time Dec. 16 during a test flight off the Virginia coast.