“In the configurations that we have, we’re looking at
carrying 24 of those aircraft forward to support the
Littoral Combat Ship operations,” Smith said, noting
that that number will enable the Navy to field eight systems of three MQ-8Bs each.
“The MQ-8B system was based on three air vehicles
to accomplish all the requirements,” he said. “One
analysis is showing that we can complete all requirements right now with two [MQ-8C] aircraft in the system to go forward with.
“One of the largest benefits is actually a reduction in
aircraft to meet all the requirements that Fire Scout needs
to accomplish,” Smith said. “On top of that, we are still
working with littoral combat systems and, also, our
[helicopter] squadrons on determining actually how the
[concept of operations] will be deployed, whether two
aircraft or one aircraft will actually be deployed.”
“Development of the MQ-8C began in 2009 under
internal Northrop Grumman and Bell Helicopter funds
on a program called Fire-X,” said George Vardoulakis,
vice president for medium range tactical systems at
Northrop Grumman. “We flew that aircraft in 2010
and continued flight testing for well over a year. That
effort seeded the formal MQ-8C development under
U.S. Navy contract funds in April 2012. The Fire-X
program significantly reduced the schedule and devel-
opment risk associated with this effort and enabled us
to meet the very aggressive Navy schedule.”
So far, the Navy has purchased 12 MQ-8Cs, includ-
ing two for testing, under two fiscal 2012 contract
awards for a total of $316.5 million, Vardoulakis said.
“Right now, we’re looking at an opportunity to buy
another six aircraft so that will put us up to a total of 18,”
he said. “The Navy plans to purchase a total of 30 aircraft
under a [Rapid Deployment Capability] effort.”
The Navy ultimately plans to procure a total of 96 MQ-
8Cs to equip 48 systems of two aircraft each, Smith said.
The Navy has conducted six deployments of the
Fire Scout onboard FFGs, two with combined H- 60
helicopter/MQ-8B detachments and four with four
MQ-8Bs only. They supported anti-piracy operations
off the coast of Africa and participated in Operation
Odyssey Dawn in Libya, during which one MQ-8B
was shot down.
Lt. Cmdr. Brett Miskemen was the Fire Scout detachment officer in charge onboard the frigate USS Robert G.
Bradley, which returned from a six-month deployment
to the Mediterranean earlier this year. The 26-Sailor
detachment from Helicopter Sea Combat Squadrons 22
and nine operated four MQ-8Bs for intelligence, reconnaissance and surveillance (ISR) missions in support of
Army special operations forces. The detachment did not
include an H- 60 helicopter, a situation he said was controversial because of the lack of capabilities such as medical evacuation that a manned helicopter brings to a ship.
Miskemen noted that a Fire Scout on a ship just outside the territorial waters of foreign nations had a very
short transit time to investigate a contact of interest,
compared with a maritime patrol aircraft that had a sev-eral-hour transit from a land base to arrive on station.
“Because we’re on a ship, we’re able to reposition
very quickly to address anything that comes up,” he
said. “The Fire Scout or any sea-based ISR asset can be
positioned, 12 miles off the coast, much more reactionary.
“The Fire Scout [is] a good first concept. There are a
few issues here and there just with operating off the ship.
The [Schweitzer airframe] was not meant for anything but
perfect conditions so there are robustness issues with just
being sea based, being navalized and being able to handle
all the corrosion from the salt spray,”
Miskemen said. “Aside from the little
issues with the MQ-8B itself, I think
the Fire Scout has an absolute future
that we need to embrace.”
“The intent is to continue with
our frigate deployments and be
migrated over to USS Dunham with
our new [MQ-8C] airframe,” Smith
said. “We’re looking at an [Initial
Operational Capability] declaration
onboard the FFGs in the November-
December  time frame.
“Overall, we are looking forward
to Fire Scout getting onboard LCS,”
he said. “We have seen some substantial improvements in data link
reliability, hardware reliability and
performance of the aircraft.” n
WWW.SEAPOWERMAGAZINE.ORG 30 SEAPOWER / OCTOBER 2013
Sailors prepare to launch an MQ-8B Fire Scout unmanned aerial vehicle during
nighttime flight operations aboard the guided-missile frigate USS Simpson in
the Atlantic Ocean Feb. 8, 2012. The Navy has conducted six deployments of
the Fire Scout onboard frigates.