US Navy’s MQ-8C Fire Scout begins maiden deployment

The US Navy started the first shipborne deployment of the MQ-8C Fire Scout unmanned aerial system (UAS) on 14 December last year.

The US Navy’s next-generation ship-based autonomous helicopter system deployed with Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron 22, while the detachment happened from Freedom-variant littoral combat ship (LCS) USS Milwaukee (LCS-5).

Photo by: US Navy

Designed in San Diego, California and Fort Worth, Texas by a joint Northrop Grumman/Bell team and manufactured in Ozark, Alabama and Moss Point, Mississippi, the MQ-8C achieved initial operational capability in June 2019 and will begin replacing the MQ-8B variant on the upcoming deployments. The vessel passed the initial fit check aboard the USS Anchorage at Naval Base San Diego last May.

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Fire Scout is expected to provide greater organic intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance and targeting (ISR&T) capabilities for the navy, according to the statement.

“This is a significant milestone in the MQ-8C Fire Scout program,” said Capt. Eric Soderberg, US Navy. “The transition from the MQ-8B to the MQ-8C Fire Scout has brought improved sensors and more than doubles the on-station endurance. Advances in Fire Scout’s capabilities further our successful integration of unmanned platforms at sea and the Navy and Marine Corps unmanned campaign plan.”

Fire Scout brings increased speed, endurance and payload capacity to maritime operations. Specifically, the system provides operators 10+ hours of endurance and a range of over 1,000 nautical miles, allowing for adaptable mission sets, including real-time over-the-horizon targeting. When operating with manned aircraft, the system enables commanders to employ manned assets in a more focused manner, the company noted.

Furthermore, the vessel is also equipped with a Leonardo AN/ZPY-8 (Osprey) radar which enables it to detect and automatically track contacts at extremely long ranges, at night and even in stormy weather conditions when visibility is extremely poor.

“Our partnership with the U.S. Navy has been critical in developing Fire Scout’s multi-mission autonomous capabilities which provide greater situational awareness to the joint force,” said Lance Eischeid, director, Fire Scout program, Northrop Grumman.

“With the ability to operate from a range of surface ships, MQ-8C Fire Scout is a powerful platform that allows the U.S. Navy to increase the detection and tracking of targets through its onboard sensors and integration with manned assets.”