Fire Scout sets sail for six month deployment to western Africa


The USS Simpson, with the embarked MQ-8B Fire Scout unmanned aerial vehicle, has departed the United States for western Africa.

For the next six-months, two Fire Scouts will support exercises off the west coast of Africa as part of the Africa Partnership Station (APS). The international initiative was developed by US Naval Forces Europe-Africa to improve maritime safety and security in the region as part of US Africa Command’s Security Cooperation programme.

The MQ-8B Fire Scout is the US Navy’s only unmanned aircraft to operate on land and at sea. It departed on January 17 from Mayport, Florida, aboard the USS Simpson, an Oliver Hazard Perry-class guided missile frigate. This marks its third at-sea deployment aboard a guided missile frigate. Typically deployed as a compliment to the manned Sikorsky H-60 helicopter, this is the Fire Scout’s first solo mission.

During its most recent sea-based deployment aboard USS Halyburton, Fire Scout gathered hundreds of hours of real-time intelligence for ship commanders as they supported counter-piracy operations and missions in Libya.

The Simpson deployment coincides with Fire Scout’s ongoing operations in Afghanistan. Fire Scout has exceeded 2 000 hours of real-time intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance support to U.S. and allied troops in northern Afghanistan.

The Navy plans to buy up to 168 Fire Scouts. Production aircraft will eventually be deployed on the Navy’s Littoral Combat Ships.

The RQ-8A Fire Scout made history in January 2006 when it landed aboard the USS Nashville whilst it was steaming off the coast of Maryland, marking the first time an unmanned helicopter has landed autonomously aboard a moving US Navy ship without a pilot controlling the aircraft.

It made further history on June 21 when an MQ-8 from the USS Halyburton was shot down during a surveillance and reconnaissance mission over Libya, marking the first US/NATO combat loss over the country.

The US Navy has plans to arm the Fire Scout and aims to fit the aircraft with weapons within a year. First tests will be with the laser-guided Griffin, and later with 2.75-inch rockets from the Advanced Precision Kill Weapon System.