Northrop Grumman Corporation has started work outfitting the U.S. Navy’s MQ-8B Fire Scout unmanned helicopter with a weapons system. The Advanced Precision Kill Weapons System laser-guided 70mm rocket – in production for the Navy since 2010 – will allow ship commanders to identify and engage hostile targets without calling in other aircraft for support.
“By arming Fire Scout, the Navy will have a system that can locate and prosecute targets of interest,” said George Vardoulakis, Northrop Grumman’s vice president for tactical unmanned systems. “This capability shortens the kill chain and lessens the need to put our soldiers in harm’s way.”
Northrop will develop and deliver the equipment needed to control the weapons system under a US$17 million contract awarded to the company on September 23 by Naval Air Systems Command. Final delivery of an operational system is expected by March 2013.
Once delivered, Fire Scout will be Navy’s first sea-based unmanned system to carry weapons. Its ability to operate at low ground speeds makes it particularly well suited for supporting littoral missions such as drug interdiction, antipiracy actions, search and rescue, reconnaissance and port security.
Fire Scout features a modular architecture that accommodates a variety of electro-optical, infrared and communications payloads.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Navy has decided to extend the system’s service in Afghanistan through most of next year.
A team of U.S. Navy sailors and Northrop Grumman employees began their mission in May to gather 300 hours per month of full-motion video surveillance, and deliver it in real time to ground forces.
“After six months of solid performance, our team has established itself as the go-to asset for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance support for northern Afghanistan,” said George Vardoulakis, vice president for tactical unmanned system with Northrop Grumman.
Northrop Grumman will operate and maintain the Fire Scout systems through October 2012 under an US$18.65 million contract awarded to the company on September 28 by Naval Air Systems Command.
“We are providing a level of situational awareness many soldiers in the field have never experienced,” said Rick Pagel, Fire Scout’s operations lead for Northrop Grumman. “In the first five months we surpassed 1,500 hours with over 400 flights. Since Fire Scout doesn’t require a runway, we are conveniently nearby and arrive on station quickly.”