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By Julian Nettlefold

16 Jul 08. Northrop gave an upbeat brief about the potential for its Fire Scout Vertical Takeoff and Landing Tactical Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (VTUAV)at Farnborough on Wednesday. This follows the brief given to BATTLESPACE at the Company’s San Diego facility in June.

In February 2000, the United States Navy chose the RQ-8A Fire Scout as its vertical take-off and landing tactical unmanned air vehicle (VTUAV). Northrop Grumman of San Diego was awarded an engineering and manufacturing development (EMD) contract for the Fire Scout, which would provide situational awareness and precision targeting support to the US Navy and Marine Corps. The Fire Scout program is being managed by the US Navy’s PMA-266 Unmanned Vehicles Program Office at Patuxent River, Maryland.

Fire Scout entered Low-Rate Initial production (LRIP) in May 2001. The LRIP system includes three air vehicles, two ground control stations, a datalink suite, remote data terminals and modular mission payloads.

In January 2002, the US Department of Defense decided not to allocate funding for Fire Scout after the completion and testing of the LRIP systems. The final LRIP vehicle was delivered in June 2003. Shipboard testing during August and September 2003, onboard Austin Class LPD (Landing Platform Dock) USS Denver included take-off and landings using the common automatic recovery system and the Raytheon tactical control system.

In September 2003, an enhanced version of Fire Scout, MQ-8B, was chosen for the Class IV-A brigade level UAV element of the US Army’s Future Combat System (FCS). The SDD (System Development and Demonstration) contract was awarded in January 2004 and requires the production of seven air vehicles. The MQ-8B has a four-bladed rotor, increased payload capacity to 270kg and more than eight-hour endurance with a 90kg payload.

The payload includes Reconnaissance, Surveillance and Target Acquisition (RSTA) and target designation capability. In March 2004, the US Navy placed a contract with Northrop Grumman for the development of the MQ-8B Fire Scout for deployment on the new Littoral Combat Ships (LCS). Nine air vehicles are to be produced under the system development and demonstration (SDD) contract, to complete in 2008. MQ-8B entered Low-Rate Initial Production (LRIP) in May 2007. Technical evaluation is scheduled to begin in autumn 2008 and Operational Evaluation (OPEVAL) in spring, 2009.

“Is everything on track to fly Fire Scout with the Army and Navy?” the Editor asked Rick Ludwig, Director Business Development, Unmanned Systems.

“Things are moving forward for Fire Scout, but due to a slip in the LCS development schedule, the USN will conduct OPEVAL and initial deployment on board an alternative air-capable FFG US Navy vessel. The Army FCS Program has also been delayed due to hold up on the JTRS radio Program,” Ludwig said.

MQ-8B air vehicles are common for the US Army and Navy but the payload differs. Baseline payload for the USN includes the FLIR Systems BriteStar II with electro-optical and infrared sensors and a laser range finder/designator.

In January 2006, Northrop Grumman received the first MQ-8B airframe from
Schweizer. The first flight of the MQ-8B was in December 2006, at Patuxent River Naval Air Station. There are 15 MQ-8B on order for the US Army and nine for the Navy.

“What about weapons installation?”

“We are carrying out a weapons integration programme which includes the installation of two four-packs of 2.75in rocket launchers on the air vehicle. The launchers are designed to fire advanced precision kill weapon system laser-guided rockets. In July 2005, Fire Scout successfully fired two 2.75in Mk66 unguided rockets. We see ship defence against small boats as a particular capability.”

“We are also developing Fire Scout for a number of C4I operations such as the COBRA, Coastal Battlefield

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