U.S. Navy’s MQ-8C Fire Scout Unmanned Helicopter Achieves Initial Operational Capability

The U.S. Navy declared initial operational capability of the MQ-8C Fire Scout unmanned helicopter on June 28 clearing the way for fleet operations and training.

“This milestone is a culmination of several years of hard work and dedication from our joint government and industry team,” said Capt. Eric Soderberg, Fire Scout program manager. “We are excited to get this enhanced capability out to the fleet.”

The MQ-8 Fire Scout is a sea-based, vertical lift unmanned system that is designed to provide reconnaissance, situational awareness, and precision targeting support for ground, air and sea forces.

The MQ-8C variant, based on commercial Bell 407 airframe, is an endurance and payload upgrade to its predecessor, the MQ-8B. The aircraft has an endurance of 12 hours (depending on payload), a range of 150 nmi (170 mi; 280 km), and a payload capacity of about 318 kg (701 lb); it has twice the endurance and three times the payload as the MQ-8B.

MQ-8B Fire Scout COBRA
An MQ-8B Fire Scout, predecessor of MQ-8C, conducts low-light condition developmental testing at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla. (Photo by U.S. Navy)

The Northrop Grumman-built Fire Scout complements the manned MH-60 helicopter by extending the range and endurance of ship-based operations. It provides unique situational awareness and precision target support for the Navy.

The MQ-8C Fire Scout first flew in October 2013 and the first operational aircraft was delivered to the U.S. Navy in December 2014. The first ship-based flight  occurred aboard USS Jason Dunham (DDG 109) in the same month.

The unmanned aircraft has flown over 1,500 hours with more than 700 sorties to date. Over the next few years, Northrop Grumman will continue MQ-8C production deliveries to the Navy to complete a total of 38 aircraft.

The MQ-8C will be equipped with an upgraded radar that allows for a larger field of view and a range of digital modes including weather detection, air-to-air targeting and a ground moving target indicator (GMTI). It will deploy with LCS in fiscal year 2021 while the MQ-8B conducts operations aboard LCS in 5th and 7th Fleets.

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