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Critical Solutions International awarded contract for 464 mine rollers for Afghanistan

Jane's Defense News - Fri, 10/06/2016 - 02:00
Afghanistan's route clearance capabilities are set to be enhanced by the delivery of a large number of mine rollers. US-based company Critical Solutions International has been awarded a USD32.8 million foreign military sales contract to deliver 464 mine rollers, 300 brackets and manuals, and
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Czech Republic rolls out protected shelters for expeditionary troops

Jane's Defense News - Fri, 10/06/2016 - 02:00
Czech Army troops deployed on expeditionary undertakings in the future may soon be fielding modular shelters that feature protection against small-arms fire and shrapnel under an initiative led by the Military Research Institute (Vojensky Vyzkumny Ustav; VVU) in Brno. Under development since 2014,
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Danish Supreme Court removes citizenship from man convicted of terrorism charges

Jane's Defense News - Fri, 10/06/2016 - 02:00
THE Danish Supreme Court on 8 June upheld a decision to strip the citizenship of 56-year-old Danish-Moroccan man Sam Mansour who had been convicted of inciting terrorism and jailed for four years in December 2014, Reuters reported. The high court initially passed the decision in July 2015, before
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Dassault buys back 5.5% of own stock from Airbus

Jane's Defense News - Fri, 10/06/2016 - 02:00
Dassault Aviation has completed the repurchase of 5.5% of its share capital from Airbus Group, the company announced on 10 June. The 502,282 share buyback was performed as part of a total Airbus divestment of 1.33 million Dassault Aviation shares, equivalent to 14.6% of the company. The remaining
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Election of market favourite signals support for Peru's extractive industries, but congressional and local community challenges likely

Jane's Defense News - Fri, 10/06/2016 - 02:00
Key Points In an extremely tight run-off vote on 5 June, the market's favourite candidate, economist Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, was elected as Peru's new president to replace incumbent Ollanta Humala. Kuczynski will assume office on 28 July. Kuczynski's election underlines Peru's strong commitment to
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Embraer names new CEO

Jane's Defense News - Fri, 10/06/2016 - 02:00
Brazilian aerospace and defence manufacturer Embraer announced the appointment of a new chief executive officer (CEO) on 9 June. Current CEO Frederico Fleury Curado is to relinquish the role in July in order to "concentrate on other professional and personal activities". The position
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IDF orders MEPRO MOR reflect sights

Jane's Defense News - Fri, 10/06/2016 - 02:00
Israeli electro-optical manufacturer Meprolight has won a tender to provide the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) with reflex sights for 7.62 mm and 5.56 mm firearms. The contract includes the rapid delivery of "thousands" of MEPRO MOR multipurpose reflex sights and maintenance, it said on 5
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India's indigenous parachutes 'still unsafe' after 12 years of research

Jane's Defense News - Fri, 10/06/2016 - 02:00
India's Special Forces (SF) are desperately short of combat free fall (CFF) parachutes, as the state-run Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) has been unable to develop them after 12 years of research, costing almost INR107.50 million (USD1.62 million). The country's Comptroller and
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Iraqi special ops enter Fallujah

Jane's Defense News - Fri, 10/06/2016 - 02:00
Iraqi special forces entered Al-Fallujah on 8 June, but divisions between the forces assembled for the offensive have begun to emerge in public. The Counter Terrorism Service (CTS) said its troops, who are the special forces that have spearheaded previous offensives against Islamic State
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Istanbul attack reflects growing sophistication of PKK-affiliated IED attacks in Turkey, rendering their prevention increasingly difficult

Jane's Defense News - Fri, 10/06/2016 - 02:00
Key Points The high-impact nature of the VBIED and the apparent complexity of the planning, involving multiple individuals each responsible for different aspects of the attack, leading to the attack indicate the increased sophistication of the Teyrênbazê Azadiya Kurdistan's operations.
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LMUK's Ampthill turret facility officially opened

Jane's Defense News - Fri, 10/06/2016 - 02:00
UK defence procurement minister Philip Dunne officially opened the new Lockheed Martin UK (LMUK) AFV turret production facility at Ampthill, Bedfordshire, on 9 June. It has been constructed at a cost of GBP5.5 million (USD8 million), bringing the total investment at the site to more than GBP23
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Lockheed Martin outlines growing Asian interest in used P-3 Orions and S-3 Vikings

Jane's Defense News - Fri, 10/06/2016 - 02:00
Lockheed Martin has confirmed interest within the Asia Pacific to procure used P-3 Orion maritime patrol aircraft (MPA) and S-3 Viking anti-submarine warfare (ASW) aircraft. Countries linked with potential purchases include Vietnam and South Korea, although a Lockheed Martin spokesperson did not
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Pakistan ministries sign defence R&D agreement

Jane's Defense News - Fri, 10/06/2016 - 02:00
Pakistan's Ministry of Defence Production (MoDP) and Ministry of Science and Technology have signed an agreement to collaborate on researching and developing (R&D) military products, the government announced on 9 June. Rana Tanveer Hussain, who heads both ministries, said in a statement that
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Peru to soon receive newly acquired Pohang-class corvette

Jane's Defense News - Fri, 10/06/2016 - 02:00
Peru's new warship, BAP Ferré (PM 211), is travelling from South Korea to the Peruvian port of Callao, temporarily docking on 6 June in Guam. The former ROKS Gyeongju (PCC 758) is a Pohang-class corvette constructed by Hyundai Heavy Industries that was commissioned in 1985. Ferré weighs
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Peruvian Navy upgrade programme passes key milestones in 2016

Jane's Defense News - Fri, 10/06/2016 - 02:00
Key Points Several Marina de Guerra del Peru (MGP) capability programmes are passing prominent milestones in 2016 Once completed, the capability augmentations would see the MGP deploying arguably one of the most modern navies in its region The Peruvian Navy (Marina de Guerra del Peru: MGP) is
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Philippine Navy's auxiliary research vessel arrives home

Jane's Defense News - Fri, 10/06/2016 - 02:00
Key Points A former US research vessel that was donated to the Philippines has arrived in the country Platform will improve the Philippine Navy's understanding of its underwater topography A former Melville-class oceanographic research ship belonging to the United States' Office of Naval Research
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Saab set to finalise AT4 CS variant qualification for Roquette NG

Jane's Defense News - Fri, 10/06/2016 - 02:00
Key Points French Armed Forces will be the launch customer for the new AT4 CS HE and AT4CS ER variants Initial tranche will be delivered to the French Armed Forces in Q3-Q4 2017 Saab Dynamics is in the final phase of qualification of three 84 mm AT4 CS (anti-tank, confined space) round variants
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Dissent in the Ranks over Canada’s Fighter Jet Replacement | Elbit Debuts IronVision HMS for Tank or Armored Vehicles | Denmark Makes it Official: F-35s to Replace F-16s

Defense Industry Daily - Fri, 10/06/2016 - 01:50

  • Leonardo-Finmeccanica’s new Osprey X-band active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar has been selected by the US Navy for mounting on its MQ-8C VTOL unmanned aerial vehicle. Consisting of three panels for 360 degree field of regard, the Osprey contains incorporated algorithms from the company’s other radar product lines such as the Seaspray maritime search radar and Vixen air-to-air radar. This now makes it possible for the MQ-8C to function with an airborne early-warning capability while operating on small ships.

  • Canada’s new fighter jet selection has started to cause a bit of a ruckus in parliament with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau slamming the F-35 as a fighter “that doesn’t work.” In response to the Liberal government’s plan to purchase F/A-18 Super Hornets as an interim fighter, Conservative Party leader Rona Ambrose accused Trudeau of selecting a fighter jet without the proper knowledge of what the Royal Canadian Air Force needs. By purchasing Super Hornets on an interim basis, Trudeau would keep his election promise of renewing the CF-18 replacement competition but also perhaps kicking the can on any new fighter competition well into the late 2020s.

Middle East North Africa

  • The USAF has acquired the Advanced Precision Kill Weapon System (APKWS) laser-guided rockets for its A-10s and F-16s operating in Afghanistan and Iraq under an urgent field requirement. To fulfill the urgent need, the service will acquire its initial supply of rockets out of the current Navy inventory. The BAE-developed guidance kit was first tested on the AV-8B Harrier, F-16 and A-10 during flight demonstrations in May 2013, the company said. It is already widely used on Navy and Marine Corps helicopters such as the Bell AH-1Z Viper, and was acquired last year by the Army for the Boeing AH-64 Apache gunship. The addition of the kits will allow current “Hydra” rockets to act as a precision-guided munition capable of destroying soft targets like hostile boats, vehicles, and exposed enemy combatants instead of using more expensive guided bombs and missiles.

  • Elbit Systems has debuted a new sensor-fused Helmet Mounted System (HMS) that allows tank commanders to essentially see through the walls of their armored vehicles. Dubbed IronVision, the vehicle-adapted HMS provides “protective glass walls” for tank or armored fighting vehicle crews who may need to operate in so-called closed-hatch mode when maneuvering in high-threat areas. The system has been developed from using airborne platform technologies to help improve crew’s abilities to locate, identify, track and engage enemy forces and threats.


  • Denmark has officially selected the F-35 as its replacement for its F-16 fleet. The official announcement follows early indications that Copenhagen would purchase the fighter following a government recommendation in May for 27 F-35A models at a cost of $3 billion. Earlier, competitors such as Boeing had hoped that they could offer their F/A-18 Super Hornets by calling into question the F-35’s questionable cost estimates, but these efforts did nothing to curry favor with the Danes.

  • A request for information by the French government for an off the shelf purchase of light multi-role armored vehicle in the French army’s Scorpion program has passed. The Scorpion modernization drive will see the defense ministry order 358 four-wheeled, 10-ton vehicles, with first delivery in 2021. While the tender is restricted to French suppliers, electronics company Thales plans to pitch its Australian Bushmaster vehicle in the competition, picking an industrial partner for assembly in France. It’s likely that the Lohr Group could provide such a partnership having built the Mercedes Unimog chassis under license for the MBDA Multi-Purpose Combat Vehicle, which was sold to Saudi Arabia.

Asia Pacific

  • The Indonesian ambassador to Russia, Mohamad Wahid Supriyadi, has told Russian media that his country’s talks with Moscow over the purchase of eight Su-35 multi-role fighters is drawing to a close. With the main negotiations over, the deal now complete, the talks have now moved to discuss the matter of transferring technology from Russia to Indonesia. Indonesian laws require that any military pronouncements are supplemented by the transfer of technology, something Supriyadi claims has not been an issue for the Russians.

  • The International Institute for Strategic Studies has released a piece on Vietnam’s indigenous KCT 15 anti-ship missile program that can trace its lineage to the Russian Zvezda-Strela 3M24 Uran. This makes Vietnam the second Asia-Pacific nation to embark on a home-made adaption of the Russian missile after North Korea. While Pyongyang’s development -as with the majority of its military production- remains mostly shrouded in secrecy, Hanoi’s initial acquisition of the 3M24 was aimed at improving the anti-surface warfare capacity of the Vietnam People’s Navy. The missile’s development, along with potential aircraft procurements from the US and Indonesia, come as militaries in the region scramble to increase naval maritime capabilities to protect and monitor island territories in the South China Sea.

Today’s Video

  • Elbit Systems’ IronVision:

Categories: Defence`s Feeds

MQ-8 Fire Scout VTUAV Program: By Land or By Sea

Defense Industry Daily - Fri, 10/06/2016 - 01:48
MQ-8B Fire Scout
(click to view full)

A helicopter UAV is very handy for naval ships, and for armies who can’t always depend on runways. The USA’s RQ/MQ-8 Fire Scout Unmanned Aerial Vehicle has blazed a trail of firsts in this area, but its history is best described as “colorful.” The program was begun by the US Navy, canceled, adopted by the US Army, revived by the Navy, then canceled by the Army. Leaving it back in the hands of the US Navy. Though the Army is thinking about joining again, and the base platform is changing.

The question is, can the MQ-8 leverage its size, first-mover contract opportunity, and “good enough” performance into a secure future with the US Navy – and beyond? DID describes these new VTUAV platforms, clarifies the program’s structure and colorful history, lists all related contracts and events, and offers related research materials.

MQ-8: The Platform MQ-8B Fire Scout MQ-8B Fire Scout
(click to view full)

The MQ-8AB Fire Scout (see Northrop Grumman’s full 655k cutaway diagram) is based on the Schweizer 333 light commercial helicopter. Up to 3 MQ-8Bs were envisioned in a ship’s complement, if it wished to fully replace 1 H-60 Seahawk medium helicopter slot.

The 9.4-foot tall, 3,150-pound MQ-8B Fire Scout can reach speeds of up to 125 knots, and altitudes of 20,000 feet. It’s capable of continuous operations that provide coverage up to 110 nautical miles from the launch site. Flight International quotes FCS Class IV UAV program chief engineer Michael Roberts as saying that the MQ-8B’s:

“Endurance with full fuel and a baseline 55kg [120 pound] payload is more than 8h, and flight time with a 250kg payload is more than 5h, and to get more out of the engine we’ve upgraded the main rotor transmission [to be rated for 320shp continuous power, with a 5 minute emergency rating of 340shp].”

The Fire Scout’s baseline payload includes a Brite Star II chin turret with electro-optical/infrared sensors and a laser rangefinder/designator. This allows the Fire Scout to find and identify tactical targets, provide targeting data to strike platforms, track and designate targets for attack, and perform battle damage assessments. The turret could be swapped out in order to mount different sensor suites, including hyperspectral sensors, 3-D LADAR/LIDAR, etc. FLIR Systems’ Star SAFIRE III, Northrop Grumman’s Airborne Surveillance Minefield Detection System (ASTAMIDS), and Telephonics’ RDR-1700B/ ZPY-4 wide-area maritime scan radar have been qualified on the platform, and Arete’s DVS-1 COBRA beach mine detection system was expected to deploy on the MQ-8B.

At present, the Fire Scout is being modified to arm itself with up to 8 APKWS II laser-guided 70mm rockets, per an urgent US Navy request. The Pentagon has stopped production of the MQ-8B, so it remains to be seen whether they’ll invest in any more payloads after that. Odds aren’t good.

If they did, the MQ-8B Fire Scout could also carry gun pods, or small smart weapons like Raytheon’s Griffin-A short-range laser-guided mini-missiles, and Northrop Grumman’s own GBU-44 Viper Strike precision glide weapons. Even Lockheed Martin’s larger Hellfire II laser-guided missiles would be possible, but it would carry fewer of them than a full-size helicopter.

MQ-8C: Is Bigger Better? S-100, armed
(click to view full)

Compared to a standard medium naval helicopter. the MQ-8B is small. On the other hand, it’s substantially bigger than its European competitors. Schiebel’s S-100 Camcompter, for instance, weighs just 250 pounds empty. It can carry up to 110 pounds of payload, distributed among belly, side, and nose stations, with a maximum takeoff weight of just 440 pounds. Over 200 have been ordered by the UAE, the Russian Coast Guard, and other customers. Saab’s Skeldar V-200 is about the same size as the Camcopter.

MQ-8C test
(click to view full)

Instead of looking for numbers and lower-cost with a mid-tier VTUAV, however, the US Navy is pushing for larger and more expensive unmanned platforms within the Fire Scout program. The MQ-8C “Endurance Upgrade Fire Scout” is based on Bell Helicopter’s 3-ton 407 model, which serves as the base for the Iraqi Air Force’s manned IA-407 armed scout helicopters.

MQ-8C is effectively a full-sized light naval utility helicopter, with 8 hours endurance carrying a 1,250 pound payload, and a maximum underslung payload of more than 2,600 pounds. To put that in perspective, it could sling-load 10 empty Camcopters.

The MQ-8C is slated to debut with US Africa Command under an urgent operational request, with 19 purchased from FY 2012 – 2019. Uses will primarily involve Special Operations Forces, but the Navy also envisions deploying it from the Littoral Combat Ship. Fielding was slated to begin in FY 2014 – which later slipped to early FY15 – and the MQ-8C’s future is the future of the Fire Scout program. Current plans involve 96 UAVs, but that will happen only if production is restarted in FY 2020 or later.

MQ-8: The Program Navy MQ-8B CONOPS
(click to view full)

The Fire Scout program is managed by the Navy’s PMA-263 Unmanned Vehicles program office, under PEO Strike Warfare and Unmanned Aviation at Patuxent River, MD.

Fire Scout began as a Navy program in 2000, became an Army program instead, morphed into a joint Army/Navy program, then became a Navy-only program again in 2010. In 2009, the Navy cut their planned buy from 168 MQ-8B VTUAVs to 121, and by 2012 they had terminated MQ-8B production at just 23 machines.

The follow-on MQ-8C Endurance Upgrade is based on the larger Bell 407 airframe instead. The FY 2014 budget listed the potential for up to 179 MQ-8Cs after the cancellation of the MRMUAS program, but current US Navy plans reportedly involve around 119 total MQ-8s of both types: 23 MQ-8Bs and 96 MQ-8Cs. The program will extend beyond FY 2019, but the 17 MQ-8Cs ordered are as far as Pentagon budgets will plan right now:

In general, Northrop Grumman’s Unmanned Systems Development Center in Rancho Bernardo, CA manages the contract and provides engineering services. System design work on the Fire Scout is performed at Northrop Grumman’s Integrated Systems Western Region Unmanned Systems Development Center in San Diego, CA; while the VTUAVs are assembled at Northrop Grumman’s Unmanned Systems Center in Moss Point, MS.

The basic MQ-8B airframe is manufactured in Elmira, NY by Schweizer Aircraft Corporation. The basic MQ-8C airframe is manufactured in Mirabel, Quebec, Canada by Bell Helicopter Textron. The MQ-8B Fire Scout Industry team includes:

MQ-8A firing Hydra
(click to view full)

The MQ-8B’s “economic production” rate was given as 10 per year, with capacity for up to 33 per year. While the eventual average unit cost of the MQ-8Bs was expected to be about $10 million in present dollars, low-rate production raises the cost for each VTUAV bought that way, since the same required fixed costs aren’t producing as many machines as they could.

That’s no longer a current issue with MQ-8B production effectively at zero, but this dynamic is worth keeping in mind during the MQ-8Cs order run. Years with production rates of at least 5 machines have a flyaway cost of around $16 million, but current plans show only one year like that: FY 2014.

MQ-8: Past and Future

The MQ-8’s initial history had it rising from the ashes like a phoenix. In January 2002, the US Department of Defense decided not to fund the RQ-8 program beyond initial test production. A year later, everything had changed. Northrop Grumman made significant improvements to usable power, payload capacity, and range; then drew attention to them by moving the vehicle near the Navy’s major test facility in Patuxent River, MD. By January 2003, the Navy had announced its intention to evaluate Fire Scout for possible deployment on the new Littoral Combat Ships, and funding was restored by Congress in July 2003.

Could the same thing happen again? Based on testing reports, it has no chance of happening to the MQ-8B, which was halted at 23 machines. The MQ-8C could still do well, and regain some momentum as a Special Operations/ Littoral Combat Ship platform, but it will have to overcome current US Navy plans.

The MQ-8B’s August 2003 selection as the US Army’s brigade-level Class IV Future Combat Systems UAV fared even worse than the Navy buy. The Army liked its ability to operate at low ground speeds, to operate in remote and unprepared landing zones, to move with the brigade, and to acquire and track targets in complex and urban terrain. Unfortunately, FCS Class IV was slowed by software and hardware (esp. JTRS radio) development delays. By February 2010, instead of having MQ-8Bs on the front lines, the US Army had only a couple of suggestive exercises using MQ-8 prototypes. Meanwhile, other VTUAV and UAV technologies had moved ahead. The US Army responded by dropping the Class IV UAV program, even before it dissolved Future Combat Systems as a whole. That’s why the MQ-8B’s eventual land deployment to Afghanistan happened in 2011 with the US Navy.

It’s said that the larger Fire-X/MQ-8C, based on a the same Bell 407 airframe that was once tapped to become the Army’s next armed scout helicopter, has attracted Army interest again. Time will tell if that turns into a commitment of any kind.

Other Markets Bringing it in…
(click to view full)

Beyond the US Navy and Army, opportunities still beckon, but Fire Scout will have to compete.

At home, December 2006 Flight International article saw the Fire Scout as a top competitor for the US Marine Corps’ 2008-2010 (now postponed) VUAS contest, in order to replace their RQ-2 Pioneer UAVs around 2015 or so. Naval deployment and weapons integration strengths should keep the MQ-8 family around as a contender for USMC interest.

The US Coast Guard has frozen development work on its planned “Eagle Eye” tilt-rotor UAV. In its absence, the Fire Scout stands a reasonable chance of being selected as an interim or future UAV provider, though the MQ-8C’s size growth could create an opening for smaller platforms that can operate from smaller ships. So far, the US Coast Guard remains very far behind the curve on UAVs, and has only begun trialing smaller options like Boeing’s catapult-launched ScanEagle.

The MQ-8 VTUAV family has yet to attract foreign orders, though the UAE and Saudi Arabia have reportedly expressed interest. Northrop Grumman’s MQ-8s are clearly aimed at customers who want larger VTUAVs that carry either weapons or cargo, and are willing to a buy a UAV whose size allows those things.

Within that segment, Kaman & Lockheed’s K-MAX is now a fielded cargo alternative with the USMC. Boeing’s troubled A160 Hummingbird offers the lure of exceptional endurance, with a payload somewhere between the MQ-8B’s and MQ-8C’s. Boeing is also working with European firms like Thales, using its more conventional MH-6 Unmanned Little Bird. Northrop Grumman’s Fire-X beat these options for the MQ-8C Fire Scout contract, but other customers will make their own choices.

Meanwhile, Fire Scout’s much smaller Schiebel S1000 Camcopter competitor has been ordered in numbers by Jordan, Russia, and the UAE. The clear trend on the international stage is for Fire Scout to face smaller and cheaper European competitors, from the Camcopter to Saab’s Skeldar, Indra’s Pelicano, etc. The Europeans see a strong market for smaller VTUAVs to operate from remote outposts, from small ships like Offshore Patrol Vessels, and from larger naval vessels that still need to carry a full-size helicopter.

Fire Scout Contracts & Key Events

Unless otherwise noted, all announced contracts were awarded to Northrop Grumman in San Diego, CA, and/or managed by US Naval Air Systems Command in Patuxent River, MD.

FY 2015 – 2016

1st MQ-8Cs. Expecting a sunset?

June 10/16: Leonardo-Finmeccanica’s new Osprey X-band active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar has been selected by the US Navy for mounting on its MQ-8C VTOL unmanned aerial vehicle. Consisting of three panels for 360 degree field of regard, the Osprey contains incorporated algorithms from the company’s other radar product lines such as the Seaspray maritime search radar and Vixen air-to-air radar. This now makes it possible for the MQ-8C to function with an airborne early-warning capability while operating on small ships.

April 25/16: The USMC has borrowed a number of MQ-8C Fire Scouts from the US Navy to test how they could be operated from the amphibious assault ships. It is believed that they may want a Group 4 or 5 unmanned aerial system (UAS), which are larger and have longer range and endurance, and that are capable of conducting ISR and fires missions. At present the RQ-21 Blackjack is operated from the corps ships, but that system, a smaller Group 3 system, is launched from a small catapult and recovered by hooking onto a tether, all of which limit the payloads that can be put on the aircraft.

January 14/16: The US Navy is to have Northrop Grumman provide software sustainment services for their MQ-8B Fire Scout unmanned helicopters in a contract worth $8.02 million. Northrop has been continuously advancing the capabilities of the MQ-8B since its introduction in 2006. By next year, they plan to have mine-detection sensor capabilities in coastal waters to be used in the protection of LCS class vessels.

December 2/15: Northrop Grumman has completed the three week operational assessment of the MQ-8C Fire Scout. The naval UAV took part in 11 flights, spending over 83.4 hours in the air. The MQ-8C was also tested against maritime and surveyed land targets and will begin ship based testing in the 2017 fiscal year. The Fire Scout is currently being developed for the Navy, however the program had been been adopted and dropped by both the Navy and Army in the past. With the successful tests announced, one wonders will the Army wish to jump back on board?

August 26/15: Northrop Grumman’s naval UAV the Fire Scout is completing endurance demonstrations, flitting about for 10 hours at a time.

April 16/15: The Fire Scout MQ-8C’s IOC deadline has been pushed back a year, owing principally to the limited availability of Littoral Combat Ships for testing. The first MQ-8C system was delivered to the Navy in December.

Dec 3/14: MQ-8C. Northrop Grumman announces it delivered the 1st operational MQ-8C to the US Navy. Tests are to begin this winter aboard USS Jason Dunham (DDG 109) and last into the summer 2015, so operations should start a year from now if the aircraft performs as expected. Land-based tests had already taken place back in August on small sloped platforms meant to simulate at-sea take-offs and landings.

FY 2014

MQ-8C 1st flight

May 12/14: MQ-8 MUT. USS Freedom [LCS 1] operates an MH-60R Seahawk helicopter and MQ-8B Fire Scout VTUAV together off the coast of San Diego, CA for VBSS (visit, board, search & seizure) exercises. Flying them together doesn’t seem like much, but operating safely in the same space as a manned helicopter is something that needs to be worked out very thoroughly before it can be used operationally.

Fire Scouts can maintain longer surveillance over a target or area of interest, but these helicopter UAVs lack the total firepower and/or troop capacity of an MH-60R or MH-60S. Sources: NGC, “Northrop Grumman, US Navy Conduct Successful Simultaneous Manned, Unmanned Helicopter Flight Tests Aboard the Littoral Combat Ship”.

April 2/14: FY14 order. Northrop Grumman Systems Corp., San Diego, CA, is being awarded a $43.8 million cost-plus-incentive-fee, firm-fixed-price contract modification for 5 MQ-8C VTUAV and 1 ground control station. Unless the line is restarted after FY 2020 begins, this is the last MQ-8C order. Including development and demonstration vehicles, NGC says they have been contracted for 19 MQ-8Cs.

All funds are committed immediately, using FY 2013 and 2014 US Navy aircraft budgets. Work will be performed in Dallas, TX (32%); Ozark, AL (27%); Rancho Bernardo, CA (25%); Moss Point, MS (15%); and Point Mugu, CA (1%), and is expected to be complete in December 2015. US NAVAIR in Patuxent River, MD manages the contract (N00019-12-C-0059). Sources: Pentagon, NGC, “Northrop Grumman to Build Five More MQ-8C Fire Scouts for the U.S. Navy”.

5 MQ-8Cs

March 31/14: GAO Report. The US GAO tables its “Assessments of Selected Weapon Programs“. Which is actually a review for 2013, plus time to compile and publish. With respect to the Fire Scout:

“The engineering design of the MQ-8C is complete as it is based on the MQ-8B design, which appeared to be stable before halting production. The program completed operational test and evaluation of MQ-8B in December 2013 and a Quick Reaction Assessment of MQ-8C will be completed in the fourth quarter of fiscal year 2014. The program plans to conduct an acquisition strategy review in the first quarter of fiscal year 2014 that assesses overall program health, including production readiness.

….a Quick Reaction Assessment is planned for MQ-8C 3 to 4 months prior to ship deployment, which is expected to be in the first quarter of fiscal year 2015. The program is planning to test the MQ-8C at-sea in 2014 on the DDG-109 and on the Littoral Combat Ship in 2015.”

March 4-11/14: Budgets. The US military slowly files its budget documents, detailing planned spending from FY 2014 – 2019. The MQ-8 sees a cut in buys, and in the program. While the GAO still publishes the program goal as 175, this has changed to a maximum of 119 total MQ-8Bs (23) and MQ-8Cs (96), with only 17 MQ-8Cs bought until FY 2019:

“The Navy has truncated MQ-8B procurement with the last LRIP buy in FY11. 21 of the 23 LRIP aircraft (90%) have been delivered. Once delivery is complete, the 23 aircraft will support 8 Fire Scout systems. MQ-8B airframes will continue to support maritime based ISR from FFGs, support LCS DT/OT events and LCS deployments. MQ-8B airframes will sunset through attrition…. Forty-Eight (48) systems are planned to utilize the MQ-8C air vehicle (96 air vehicles), for a total of 119 air vehicles which includes Primary Inventory, backup inventory and attrition aircraft.

….The Navy will use the MQ-8[B] system from FFGs to provide up to 1/2 orbit of support to SOF until [MQ-8Cs] are available and LCS become available through the Global Force Management Process.”

Despite the goal of 96 MQ-8Cs, FY 2015-2019 buys no VTUAVs, just ancillary equipment which includes GCS, UCARs, special payloads, shipboard TCDL [datalink] systems, and various forms of support. That means the last MQ-8C orders take place in FY 2014, and orders must wait until FY 2020 or later. Statements that key LCS systems like COBRA may move to the MH-60S fleet suggest that the MQ-8C line may not be restarted, since a stalled production line attracts little political support in times of austerity.

Big program shift

Jan 23/14: Sub-contractors. L-3 Corp. Systems West in Salt Lake City, UT receives a $17.6 million indefinite-delivery, indefinite-quantity contract modification for supplies and services associated with Littoral Combat Ship configurations of the Hawklink Tactical Common Data Link (TCDL) Surface Terminal Equipment, and with Vortex Mini-TCDL Shipset components. While Hawklink is most closely associated with the MH-60R Seahawk helicopter, these supplies and services are in support of the Fire Scout MQ-8B/8C.

The high definition Hawklink interface creates point-to-point Internet-equivalent connectivity between a helicopter and ships up to 100 nmi away, enabling both to publish and subscribe for information. That would allow a ship or strike group to request data from the helicopter’s sensors via its AN/SRQ-4 terminal, including sonobuoy data or real-time video, while sending other messages and data to the helicopter’s AN/ARQ-59 system. Terminals can also be configured for interoperability with several generations of CDL surface terminals deployed by the US Army, US Air Force, and American allies.

Funds will be committed as needed. Work will be performed in Salt Lake City, UT (90%), Point Mugu, CA (5%), and the Patuxent River Naval Air Station, MD, (5%), and is expected to be complete in December 2014 (N00019-13-D-0001).

November 2013: India. India Strategic magazine says that the Fire Scout will be competing with Saab’s smaller Skeldar VTAUV for a shipborne VTUAV contract:

“The Navy has plans to have at least two more squadrons of UAVs to be controlled from ships to increases the range of surveillance. There are plans to introduce rotary UAVs on ships. The contenders are the Northrop Grumman’s MQ-8 Firescout with the Telephonics RDR 1700B or General Atomics Lynx radar and Skeldar from SAAB… [error deleted here]. Notably MIL-1553 specs and [other onboard systems] are looked at by the Indian Navy’s WEESE i.e. ‘Weapons, Electronic, Electrical Systems Engineering’ Group at New Delhi which has assembled the data bus for integration in to [the destroyer] INS Delhi and other class of ships.”

This is India, so it’s entirely possible that nothing will happen for many years, but the Indian Navy is very familiar with UAVs, and has been operating land-based Searcher II and Heron UAV fleets for over a decade. India’s Coast Guard has also trialed Schiebel’s S100 Camcopter, and other competitors may yet emerge. Sources: India Strategic, “Indian Navy’s Quest to employ and equip its warships with UAVs”

Nov 15/13: MQ-8B. The Littoral Combat Ship USS Fort Worth [LCS 3] spends Nov 5-13/13 conducting testing with the MQ-8B Fire Scout UAV in the Point Mugu Test Range, CA. Fort Worth is scheduled to deploy in 2014 with “The Mad Hatters” of HSM-35, Detachment 1. The Navy’s first “composite” Air Detachment will include both a manned SH-60R helicopter and smaller MQ-8B Fire Scout helicopter UAVs. Sources: USN, “USS Fort Worth Launches First UAV, Demonstrates LCS Capability”.

Nov 14/13: +3 407s. Bell Helicopter Textron Inc. in Hurst, TX receives an $8.3 million firm-fixed-price contract for 3 Bell 407 ‘analog’ helicopters. They don’t have all the equipment you’d find in even a civil 407, because most of that gets added when they’re turned into MQ-8C Fire Scouts. All funds are committed, using the Navy’s FY 2013 procurement budget.

Work will be performed in Fort Worth, TX (52%); Mirabel, Canada (46%); and Ozark, AL (2%), and is expected to be complete in June 2014. This contract wasn’t competitively procured, pursuant to FAR 6.302-1 (N00019-14-C-0022).

Oct 31/13: 1st MQ-8C flight. A pair of flights, actually. The 1st was just a 7-minute check-out to validate the autonomous control systems, while the 2nd was a 9-minute circuit around the airfield at at Naval Base Ventura County, Point Mugu, CA.

Meanwhile, the MQ-8B is back from Afghanistan (q.v. Aug 16/13), but the platform is also in the middle of its 7th at-sea deployment on board US Navy FFG-7 frigates. A tour aboard the USS Freedom [LCS-1] is next. Sources: NGC, Oct 31/13 release.

1st MQ-8C flight

FY 2013

6 more MQ-8Cs; 1st MQ-8C delivered; MRMUAS competition canceled, which will expand Fire Scout; Just how much is the Fire Scout program expanding?; Pentagon testers say MQ-8B production stopped in 2012 – very negative review explains why. Fire-X (MQ-8C) test
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Aug 16/13: Next steps. After logging over 5,000 flight hours in Afghanistan, the Navy’s MQ-8B detachment and their contractor operators have packed up and headed home. Fire Scout program manager Capt. Patrick Smith discussed the UAV at AUVSI 2013.

Next steps for the MQ-B include a November 2013 deployment aboard USS Freedom [LCS 1], and delivery of the Telephonics ZPY-4/ RDR-1700B surface scanning radar (q.v. Dec 20/12), which has had its final delivery pushed back from June 2014 to December 2014. The larger MQ-8C now intends to begin formal Navy flight tests in October 2013, with the 1st at-sea tests involving the USS Jason Dunham [DDG 109] in 2014.

Smith adds that Navy is now looking at a total buy of 96 MQ-8B/C UAVs, which implies a total of 73 MQ-8Cs – just 40% of the number listed in the FY 2014 budget. Source: Defense News, “Fire Scout ends Afghan mission; future includes new variant, LCS work”.

Aug 6/13: Deployment. US NAVAIR praises the achievements of 4 MQ-8B Fire Scouts from HSM-46, aboard the USS Samuel B. Roberts [FFG 58] in the Mediterranean Sea. The detachment flew 333 hours in June 2013, blowing past the previous monthly record by more than 100 hours.

That figure is over 10 hours per day for the detachment, with some days featuring over 18 hours of coverage. It’s the 6th deployment of Fire Scout helicopters aboard US Navy ships. Source: US NAVAIR, “Fire Scout surpasses flight hour record aboard USS Samuel B. Roberts.”

July 19/13: MQ-8C. Northrop Grumman announces their 1st MQ-8C delivery to the US Navy “in early July,” in preparation for ground and flight testing. Source: NGC.

April 10/13: FY 2014 Budget. The President releases a proposed budget at last, the latest in modern memory. The Senate and House were already working on budgets in his absence, but the Pentagon’s submission is actually important to proceedings going forward. See ongoing DID coverage. The MQ-8 undergoes yet another big procurement shift, as the planned total jumps to 202 UAVs over the life of the program, supporting both Special Operations and the Littoral Combat Ship. The program will also include a limited number of land-based control stations, mission training devices, and engineering moves to ensure stocks of parts that are going out of production, or their replacement by new designs.

“The MQ-8 is currently deployed on FFG ships and may be deployed on alternate class of ships to support the Special Operations Forces (SOF) mission. In support of the SOF mission, aircraft were moved forward in the budget starting in FY 2012 and additional ship control stations will be procured for outfitting of the FFG/DDG and alternate class of ships such as the Joint High Speed Vessel. MQ-8 will perform land-based operations in support of the ISR Task Force and Army units…. In addition, specialty payloads and communications equipment will be procured in support of SOF ISR, ISR Task Force, shipboard requirements. Weapons Stores Management Systems are included in the aircraft cost starting in FY 2013 that support on-going RDCs.

There will be 34 MQ-8C Endurance Upgrade aircraft procured between FY12-FY18 to support an AFRICOM JEONS RDC. The increase over PB13 results from the Navy canceled Medium Range Maritime UAS program prior to Milestone A and the need to sustain the SOF 3 orbit requirement. Initial spares and repairs are needed to support the RDC operational tempo of 27,000 flight hours per year. All aircraft procured in FY12-FY18 are MQ-8C. The MQ-8 Endurance Upgrade capability will start transitioning to a Navy program of record in FY14 to support Littoral Combat Ship requirements. The Navy is evaluating the VTUAV procurement quantity requirement in light of the Endurance Upgrade capabilities and will lay in the updated procurement profile during future budgets. [This submission marks down another 145 MQ-8Cs after FY 2018.]”

March 12/13: MQ-8B. US NAVAIR states that:

“After exceeding the 8,000-flight-hour mark Friday [presumably for its entire flight career], an MQ-8B Fire Scout assigned to Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron 22 Detachment 5 prepares to land aboard USS Robert G. Bradley for a “hot pump” and re-launch while conducting maritime intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) operations in the Mediterranean Sea March 11. Fire Scouts aboard Bradley are routinely flying 17-hour days while providing 12 hours on station ISR coverage in the U.S. Africa Command area of responsibility.”

March 11/13: MQ-8C. A $71.6 million cost-plus-incentive-fee, firm-fixed-price contract modification to deliver 6 MQ-8C VTUAVs and 7 ground control stations, using FY 2012 & 2013 Navy aircraft funds.

The company is now under contract to produce 14 MQ-8Cs, of a planned rapid acquisition program total of up to 30. Both figures include test aircraft.

Manufacturing and assembly operations are already underway for the 407-based variant, with airframe modifications being made at Bell’s facility in Ozark, AL (27%), and final assembly being completed at Northrop Grumman’s Unmanned Systems Center in Moss Point, MS (15%). Other locations include Dallas, TX (32%); Rancho Bernardo, CA (25%); and Point Mugu, CA (1%) (N00019-12-C-0059). See also Northrop Grumman.

6 more MQ-8Cs

Feb 13/13: MRMUAS. Military officials announce plans to end the Medium-Range Maritime Unmanned Aerial System program, which was going to produce a surveillance UAV with up to 8 hours endurance.

With funds tight, and the MQ-8C available as an interim solution, the potential gains from offerings like BAE/OVX’s compound ducted fan concept was deemed less important. Which leads to the question of what happens after the initial rapid buy of MQ-8Cs. sUAS News.

MRMUAS canceled

Jan 31/13: MQ-8C. Greenwich AeroGropup’s Summit Aviation delivers the MQ-8C’s 1st Faraday Cage assembly, designed to protect the UAV’s electronics from lightning, electro-magnetic interference, etc. NGC.

Jan 17/13: DOT&E testing. The Pentagon releases the FY 2012 Annual Report from its Office of the Director, Operational Test & Evaluation (DOT&E). The MQ-8s are included, and the news isn’t good. The overall program has stopped production at 23 MQ-8Bs, and may supplement them with 31 MQ-8C Fire-X/ Endurance Upgrade Fire Scouts (3 test + 28 Urgent Operational Requirement).

MQ-8C testing hasn’t really begun yet, but the verdict on the MQ-8B is really poor. Reliability well below program planning levels has created a “critical” shortage of spares, and produced “unacceptable values for Availability, Mean Flight Hours Between Operational Mission Failures, and Mean Flight Hours Between Unscheduled Maintenance Actions.” It’s so far below plan that the MQ-8B hasn’t had Initial Operational Test & Evaluation, and probably isn’t going to, even though MQ-8Bs are now being armed in response to an urgent Navy requirement. Its communications relay remains a problematic issue.

On the bright side, software improvements tested in 2012 now allow dual air vehicle operations, something that should transfer to the MQ-8C. Frigate deployments continue to show the value of a VTUAV system, and at the moment, there’s no sign that the MQ-8Bs will be retired. On the other hand, it would take a long string of successes to have the MQ-8 program even approach its original scope.

MQ-8B stopped, panned

Dec 20/12: Radars. A $33.3 million cost-plus-incentive-fee contract to develop, integrate, test, and deliver 9 radar systems for the MQ-8B. The Navy wants a wide-area surface search radar (vid. July 7/11 entry), which would sharply improve the UAV’s effectiveness for missions like anti-piracy, blockades, near-port monitoring, search & rescue, etc.

Northrop Grumman has confirmed to us that they’ll be using the Telephonics RDR-1700B [PDF]radar, which has been tested with the MQ-8B over the last few years (vid. Oct 19-23/09, Sept 19/08 entries), and a Jan 8/13 Telephonics release makes it clear that they’ll be using the AN/ZPY-4(V)1 upgrade, complete with moving target indicator functions and the ability to track AIS ship transponders. Subsequent reports establish the number as 12 radars, plus 3 spares.

$15.8 million is committed on award, and $11.3 million will expire at the end of the current fiscal year on Sept 30/13. Work will be performed in San Diego, CA (70%) and Patuxent River, MD (30%), and is expected to be complete in June 2014. This contract was not competitively procured pursuant to 10 U.S.C 2304c1 (N00019-13-C-0020).

New ZPY-4 radar

Dec 20/12: Support. A $19.2 million cost-plus-fixed-fee contract for MQ-8B spares and deliveries.

All funds are committed, and $19 million will expire at the end of the current fiscal year, on Sept 30/13. Work will be performed in San Diego, CA (90%), and Patuxent River, MD (10%); and is expected to be completed in November 2013. This contract was not competitively procured pursuant to 10 U.S.C 2304c1 (N00019-13-C-0007).

Oct 5/12: Support. A $24.5 million firm-fixed-price delivery order for MQ-8B spare parts and supplies.

Work will be performed in San Diego, CA (36%), Horseheads, NY (30%); Salt Lake City, NV (11%); Sparks, NV (11%); and various other locations within the United States (12%); and is expected to be complete in April 2014 (N00019-10-G-0003).

FY 2012

USN commits to add MQ-8Cs, signs development contract; 2 quick crashes ground MQ-8B fleet; Experience highlights serious problems with MQ-8B targeting, communications relay; Ground control system completing Linux transition; MQ-8B & MH-60 testing MQ-8B, Afghanistan
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Sept 27/12: Radars. A Telephonics release touts successful completion of their “AN/ZPY-4(V) Maritime Surveillance Radar.” This release touts it as “an enhanced version of the radar designed and built for the US Navy’s MQ-8 Fire Scout.” It has been upgraded with a Ground Moving Target Indicator (GMTI) mode, and incorporates the US Navys Ocean Surveillance Initiative (OSI) in the software. With OSI, it can receive ship Automatic Information System (AIS) transponder data, and identify compliant vessels. Subsequent releases make it clear that the USN has shifted to this radar for the Fore Scout contract.

Sept 27/12: Support. A $28.1 million cost-plus-fixed-fee contract for software sustainment and development, non-recurring engineering support, and obsolescence efforts for the MQ-8B.

Work will be performed in San Diego, CA (90%), and NAS Patuxent River, MD (10%); and is expected to be complete in September 2013. All contract funds will expire at the end of the fiscal year, on Sept 30/12. This contract was not competitively procured pursuant to 10 U.S.C. 2304c1 (N00019-12-C-0126).

Sept 20/12: Personnel. US NAVAIR describes their efforts to develop in-house expertise with the MQ-8B. That’s a bit of a challenge, because the end of the Afghan deployment means that the detachment will revert back to a contractor-operated structure. The officers in charge and sailors who deployed are being moved to shipboard deployments, and the new Unmanned Helicopter Reconnaissance Squadron (HUQ-1) training squadron in Naval Air Station North Island, CA.

July 10/12: Training. Northrop Grumman opens a new UAV training facility for Fire Scout operators at at Naval Air Station Jacksonville, FL. It offers improved flight simulators, plus hands-on maintenance and classroom instruction. NGC.

June 6/12: Linux TCS. Raytheon Intelligence and Information Systems in Dulles, VA receives a $27.9 million cost-plus-incentive-fee, firm-fixed-price contract to “complete Linux transition” on the MQ-8’s TCS ground control system. Linux is emerging as a key standard for American UAV ground control systems. The MQ-1/9 Predator/ Reaper’s ground stations are being migrated from Windows to Linux, and AAI’s multi-UAV OneSystem/UGCS already use the open-source computer operating system.

Work on this contract will be performed at Naval Air Station Patuxent River, MD, and is expected to be complete in February 2014. This contract was not competitively procured, pursuant to FAR 6.302-1, and $5.2 million will expire at the end of the current fiscal year, on Sept 30/12 (N00019-12-C-0102). See also March 25/09 entry.

May 8/12: LRIP-5. Northrop Grumman Integrated Systems Sector in San Diego, CA received a $25.7 million firm-fixed-price contract modification, buying 3 MQ-8B Fire Scout vehicles and 1 ground control station as Low Rate Initial Production Lot 5. This appears to be the FY 2011 order.

Work will be performed in Moss Point, MS (55%), and San Diego, CA (45%), and is expected to be complete in December 2013. US Naval Air Systems Command manages the contract (N00019-07-C-0041).

LRIP-5: 3 more

April 23/12: MQ-8C contract. Northrop Grumman Systems Corp. in San Diego, CA gets an unfinalized, not-to-exceed $262.3 million contract to finish developing the Fire-X/ MQ-8C, based on Bell Helicopter’s 407 model. They’ll develop, manufacture, and test 2 VTUAVs, produce 6 air vehicles; and supply spare parts in support of the “VTUAV endurance upgrade rapid deployment capability effort.”

Work will be performed in Moss Point, MS (47%); San Diego, CA (46%); and Yuma, AZ (7%), and is expected to be complete in May 2014. $24.9 million will expire at the end of the current fiscal year, on Sept 30/12. This contract was not competitively procured, pursuant to FAR 6.302-1, by US Naval Air Systems Command in Patuxent River, MD (N00019-12-C-0059). See also NGC.

MQ-8C development

April 10/12: Grounded. US NAVAIR announces that they’re suspending operations of their remaining 14-UAV Fire Scout fleet, in the wake of the last 2 crashes. While the fleet is grounded, NAVAIR will be reviewing the incidents, the MQ-8B’s technical components, and their operational procedures.

Later queries to NAVAIR reveal that the grounding is over by the end of April 2012.

Since 2006, the MQ-8B Fire Scout has accumulated over 5,000 flight hours, with more than 3,000 flight hours tallied during operational deployments. US NAVAIR.


April 6/12: Crash. An MQ-8B operating in northern Afghanistan crashes, while conducting a routine surveillance mission in support of Regional Command North. Source.


March 30/12: Crash. An MQ-8B Fire Scout operating off USS Simpson [FFG-56], and returning from a maritime surveillance mission in support of Africa Partnership Station, cannot achieve UAS Common Automated Recovery System (UCARS) lock on. Operators tried multiple approaches and exhaustive troubleshooting, but couldn’t achieve UCARS lock, which meant they couldn’t risk a landing attempt on the ship. Their only option was to position it a safe distance from USS Simpson, terminate the flight, and perform a night-time recovery. Source.


March 21/12: Arming the MQ-8B. US NAVAIR announces that they are working to get the MQ-8B tested and operationally-cleared to fire laser-guided 70mm APKWS rockets, per an urgent US Navy request. The 1st of a series of tests on the newly-installed hardware began March 7/12. Even though the Fire Scouts have conducted armed Army tests before, it is the first time the US Navy will arm an unmanned aircraft. Jeremy Moore is Fire Scout weapons system integration lead, and Bill McCartney is the Fire Scout’s Air Vehicle flight test lead. McCartney:

“We had a very tight timeline to conduct trade studies and complete design reviews… Now, we are starting to execute tests, and there is little time in the schedule for repeats.”

Feb 13/12: MQ-8Bs and Cs. The USA’s FY 2013 budget documents include a section on the MQ-8B Fire Scout, which has survived cuts. The MQ-8C will also move forward:

“The MQ-8 system will support Surface Warfare, Mine Countermeasures Warfare, and Anti-Submarine Warfare mission modules while operating onboard Littoral Combat Ship (LCS). The MQ-8 is currently deployed on [frigates] and will be deployed on [destroyers] to support the Special Operations Forces (SOF) mission. In support of the SOF mission, aircrafts were moved forward in the budget starting in FY 2012 and additional ship control stations will be procured for outfitting of the FFG and DDG ships… A limited number of land-based ground control stations supplement… [and] will also support depot level maintenance/ post-maintenance activities. Mission training devices will be procured and integrated into the land-based ground control stations for predeployment and proficiency training… In addition, specialty payloads and communications equipment will be procured in support of SOF ISR and ISR task force. Radar payloads and Weapons Stores Management System are included in the aircraft cost starting in FY 2013 that support on-going RDCs.

A minimum of 28 MQ-8C Endurance Upgrade aircraft are being procured between FY12-FY15 to support an AFRICOM JUONS(Joint Urgent Operational Needs Statement) RDC. Initial spares and repairs have increased to support the RDC operational tempo of 27,000 flight hours per year.”

Jan 17/12: Testing report. The Pentagon releases the FY 2011 Annual Report from its Office of the Director, Operational Test & Evaluation (DOT&E). The Fire Scout program is included, and the review is mixed. For starters:

“The Test and Evaluation Master Plan (TEMP) approved in 2007 is outdated and does not contain a clear path to successful completion of IOT&E. The TEMP does not clearly define the objectives of near-term testing nor prioritize future upgrades…”

Initial OT&E is scheduled for March 2012, which is almost 3 years after the original June 2009 plan. DOT&E considers previous issues with poor reliability, and with excessive cautions, warnings, and advisories, to be fixed. Operations controlling 2 MQ-8B UAVs in the air, which weren’t possible before, were demonstrated in September 2011. On the other hand, issues with UAV and datalink reliability, target geo-location errors so large that the system “does not support precision attack missions”, limited available frequencies, and an unreliable communications relay suite are all listed as problems that threaten a successful IOT&E. Beyond IOT&E, the report cites issues with incomplete technical publications, spare parts support, and pre-deployment training.

Some of this can be attributed to deployment pressures. DOT&E itself says that “time spent training additional operators and maintainers, modifying air vehicles, integrating non-program of record payloads, and a requirement to provide spare parts to three operating locations, delayed the program’s efforts to address those deficiencies.” They would also like the program to get some clarity re: future plans, especially the issue of the MQ-8B vs. the MQ-8C, which has resulted in “in the lack of a coherent long-range schedule to be ready for IOT&E and field the system.”

Nov 14/11: Helico-operation. Inside the Navy reports that the USN is testing communications between manned MH-60s and unmanned MQ-8Bs, in the hopes that the two working in tandem could expand the Navy’s reach.

The US Army recently finished a test in which a Predator family UAV was controlled by an AH-64D Block III attack helicopter, which could give orders to the UAV and its payload, and receive video etc. from the MQ-1C. A similar configuration at sea could extend the MQ-8B’s controllable range, while enhancing the MH-60R’s effectiveness. Even a lesser configuration, in which MH-60R/S helicopters acted only as a communication relay, would offer benefits for the Navy.

FY 2011

MQ-8B to Afghanistan; Navy will convert Army’s 8 Fire Scouts; Fire-X picked as “MQ-8C”; Navy approves arming MQ-8Bs; COBRA mine-detection tested on MQ-8B; LCS flight tests begin; Army may be also interested in larger VTUAV. MQ-8B in Afghanistan
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Sept 29/11: Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems Unmanned Systems in San Diego, CA received a $7.6 million cost-plus-fixed-fee delivery order for MQ-B software sustainment services. They’ll include analysis of engineering change proposals; development of plans of action and milestones; laboratory facility studies and analysis; software upgrades; configuration management and quality assurance; and keeping the technical documentation up to date.

Work will be performed in San Diego, CA, and is expected to be complete in June 2012. All contract funds will expire at the end of the current fiscal year – which is Sept 30/11 (N00019-10-G-0003).

Sept 28/11: Afghanistan. An $18.7 million cost-plus-fixed-fee contract to extend MQ-8B intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance services in Afghanistan (90%, q.v. April 8-13/11 entry), and at Patuxent River, MD (10%) until October 2012. $1.4 million will expire at the end of the current fiscal year, on Sept 30/11. This contract was not competitively procured, pursuant to FAR 6.302-1 (N00019-11-C-0094). On Nov 8/11, NGC’s Fire Scout operations lead, Rick Pagel says:

“We are providing a level of situational awareness many soldiers in the field have never experienced… 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.”

They haven’t experienced it, but their grandfathers may have. The US Army used light propeller planes called “Grasshoppers” in a similar fashion during World War 2.

Sept 22/11: Weapons. Northrop Grumman Systems Corp. in San Diego, CA received a $17.1 million cost-plus-fixed-fee contract for the MQ-8B’s Rapid Deployment Capability Weaponization Program. See also Aug 19/11 entry.

This contract includes the installation, engineering, manufacturing, and data development of the weapons systems, which include 12 Stores Management Systems. Work will be performed in San Diego, CA (75%), and Grand Rapids, MI (25%), and is expected to be completed in March 2013. $14.8 million will expire at the end of the fiscal year, on Sept 30/11. This contract was not competitively procured pursuant to FAR6.302-1 (N00019-11-C-0087).

Armed MQ-8B

Aug 29/11: A $10.5 million cost-plus fixed-fee contract in support of the MQ-8B Fire Scout system. Logistic support services includes: logistics management, maintenance support, supply support, air vehicle transportation, training services, logistics management information, technical data updates, flight operations and deployment support.

Work will be performed in St. Inigoes, MD (40%), San Diego, CA (20%), and various locations outside the continental United States; and is expected to be complete in August 2012. $6.4 million will expire at the end of the fiscal year, on Sept 30/11. This contract was not competitively procured pursuant to FAR6.302-1 (N00019-11-C-0075).

Aug 19/11: Weaponization approved. Aviation Week reports on 2 key milestones for the program. One is the addition of the MQ-8C/ Fire-X.

The other is weapons approval for the MQ-8B, beginning with the APKWS-II laser-guided 70mm rocket that’s already cleared for use from Navy ships. Raytheon’s laser-guided short-range Griffin mini-missile is slated for a demonstration before the end of August 2011, and will be the platform’s next weapon, as opposed to Northrop Grumman’s own GBU-44 Viper Strike.

The report also adds confirmation from official sources that an MQ-8B from USS Halyburton was indeed shot down over Libya by enemy fire.

Weapon approval for MQ-8B

Fire-X: MQ-8C?
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Aug 16/11: Fire-X recommended. In the wake of a joint urgent operational need statement from Special Operations Command and the US Navy for a longer-endurance VTUAV, the office of the secretary of defense validates the requirement. The Fire Scout program office has decided to recommend the NGC/Bell 407 Fire-X design over the Lockheed/Kaman K-MAX, or Boeing’s A160T Hummingbird, but the Navy hasn’t formally accepted their recommendation yet.

The requirement is to develop the larger MQ-8C within 24 months, for deployment in 2014, with plans to acquire 28 air vehicles over 3 years. USN Fire Scout program manager Capt. Patrick Smith reportedly said at AUVSI 2011 that “Our recommendation is to go with the 407 airframe, based on the time frame limitations,” though the A160 and K-MAX have both been flying for far longer. The first unmanned Fire-X flight took place on Dec 16/10. Source.

Aug 3/11: The FFG-7 frigate USS Halyburton returns to port in Naval Station Mayport, FL with 2 MQ-8B VTUAVs on board. US NAVAIR:

“HSL-42 Det. 2 simultaneously fielded manned SH-60 and unmanned MQ-8B flight operations for airborne support of Halyburton’s transits through the Straits of Hormuz and Bab Al Mandeb. The MQ-8B operators pushed the unmanned helicopter to its operational limits, setting records for maximum altitude, range, and endurance. More than one thousand deployment flight hours were recorded, with 438 hours flown by Fire Scout.”

Aug 3/11: Army, again? Flight International covers ongoing developments among American UAV programs, including the MQ-8:

“Despite the backlog of MQ-8Bs and an apparently forthcoming order for the MQ-8C – an improved version based on a new airframe – the navy has an open tender for a replacement. The replacement is called the medium range maritime UAS (MRMUAS), and entry into service is planned for 2018-19.

The newest stumbling block in the navy’s programme is the possible inclusion of the army… After [canceling the MQ-8B and] making do with the RQ-7 Shadow, the army has re-declared its interest and is studying a joint buy with the navy… The contest is still open but several clear contenders have emerged, and first among them is Northrop Grumman’s MQ-8C… Boeing is likely to put forward the A160, and EADS has briefed the army on its own options… Requirements concerning lift capacity, endurance, range and even intended function are not yet written in stone… Both army and navy are examining possibilities for weaponisation…”

July 7/11: Defense News reports that the Pentagon is looking to shift $920 million in funding to surveillance-related projects, in order to support ongoing wars. That includes $32.6 million for 9 radar units that give the MQ-8B a wide area surface search capability, plus $1 million to:

“…develop and integrate an upgrade… [that] extends the Fire Scout’s combat radius, increases its payload, and improves on-station endurance to meet the urgent SOF (Special Operations Forces) maritime ISR requirements outlined.”

June 21/11: Shot down. NATO loses communication with the USS Halyburton’s MQ-8 Fire Scout, during a reconnaissance and targeting mission over western Libya, near Zlitan. It was delivering intelligence data from about 5,000-7,000 feet, with no sign of malfunction before its crash. Libya claims to have shot it down, which turns out to be true. Aviation Week | IEEE | RTT News.

Shot down over Libya

June 14/11: US NAVAIR discusses the MQ-8B Fire Scout’s Afghan deployment:

“Fire Scout’s initial flight in theater took place May 2. Only 19 days later, PMA-266 Detachment Alpha established initial operational capability during its first tasked mission from the [ISAF] Regional Command North area of responsibility… Cmdr. Brian Stephens, Officer in Charge (OIC) for PMA-266 Detachment Alpha. “In less than one month, we have flown more than 200 flight hours and completed more than 80 sorties and we are on track to fly 300 hours per month.” PMA-266 Detachment Alpha is a government owned/contractor operated deployment. The detachment includes a military OIC and assistant OIC, [5] Navy intelligence analysts, and 21 Northrop Grumman contractors…”

May 16/11: Convert 8. Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems Unmanned Systems in San Diego, CA receives a $42 million firm-fixed-price contract modification, to convert 8 Army Fire Scouts to the Navy configuration. A logical move, since the Army has abandoned the program.

Work will be performed in Moss Point, LA (71%), and San Diego, CA (29%), and is expected to be complete in February 2013 (N00019-07-C-0041).

Conversion: 8 Army to Navy

April 8-13/11: To Afghanistan. The Navy ships 3 MQ-8B Fire Scouts and 2 ground control stations to northern Afghanistan for about a year, to support Army and coalition forces. It will be operated by a team of U.S. Navy sailors and Northrop Grumman employees. Pensacola News Journal | Satnews Daily | StrategyPage.

Combat deployment

Feb 25/11: The MQ-8B Fire Scout marks a new single-day flight record of 18 hours – but that’s a single aircraft in a series of flights over 24 hours, not a single 18-hour flight. These were operational flights, though, from the frigate USS Halyburton [FFG 40], while on anti-piracy missions in the Indian Ocean with the 5th Fleet.

Northrop Grumman’s release adds that in late January 2011, operators from the Halyburton located a disabled boat using Fire Scout’s Brite Star II sensor.

November 13-24/10: LCS. The MQ-8B Fire Scout flies dynamic interface (DI) testing flights from the U.S. Navy’s littoral combat ship, USS Freedom [LCS-1], off the coast of southern California. DI testing is designed to verify that Fire Scout control systems have been properly integrated on the ship. It includes a series of shipboard takeoffs and landings from various approaches, subjecting the system to various wind directions and ship speeds.

As of February 2011, this marks the 4th ship and the 3rd ship class that has flown the Fire Scout. Previous flight operations have been conducted from the Austin class amphibious ship USS Nashville [LPD-13], and the Oliver Hazard Perry Class frigates USS McInerney [FFG-8, now Pakistan’s PNS Alamgir] and USS Halyburton [FFG-40]. Additional DI testing will be conducted on the first-of-class USS Independence [LCS-2] by 2012. Northrop Grumman.

Oct 13/10: Sensors. The Navy successfully conducts the 1st flight test of the Coastal Battlefield Reconnaissance and Analysis (COBRA) Block I system at Yuma Proving Ground, AZ, on board the MQ-8B Fire Scout vertical take-off unmanned aerial vehicle. The tests were successful.

The AN/DVS-1 COBRA system is designed to detect minefields and obstacles to prepare for amphibious assaults in the beach zone and inland areas. The COBRA Block I system will enter low-rate initial production under a Small Business Innovative Research (SBIR) Phase III contract, with the first production unit scheduled for delivery to the fleet in FY 2012. US Navy.

FY 2010

Army FCS dies, and so does its MQ-8B plan; 1st Navy deployment; 1st ever UAV drug bust; Navy wants more MQ-8Bs; Navy considering larger VTUAV; MQ-8B autonomous cargo drop; MQ-8B a bit too autonomous over Washington; NGC begins private “Fire-X” project; Program cost increases; UAE & Saudi interest Corrosion check
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Aug 2/10: Going rogue. An MQ-8B based at Webster Field, VA loses communication 75 minutes into a routine operational evaluation test flight, then flies about 23 miles NNW at 17,000 feet, into the National Capital Region’s restricted airspace. The FAA was notified, and the MQ-8B program suspended while the fault is investigated. The problem appears to have been a software fault, and the program expects to resume testing in September 2010. Southern Maryland Newspapers Online’s Aug 27/10 article adds that:

“The Navy is seeking to give the Fire Scout program a 50 percent budget boost as part of an 89-page “omnibus reprogramming request” submitted to Congress last month. The Navy Times, which obtained a copy of the funding request, reports that the Navy is seeking to shift $13 million to the program to finish operational testing aboard the frigate Halyburton.”

See also: Engadget.

Going rogue

July 14/10: UAE. Northrop Grumman announces the end of Fire Scout desert trials in the United Arab Emirates. Tests lasted for 10 days in early July 2010, and included numerous takeoffs and landings in hot, windy and sandy conditions in temperatures as high as 50 degrees Celsius (122F), and at altitudes up to 3,000 meters (9,842 feet). The Fire Scout mission demonstrations also included “non-line-of-sight” operations, and its sensors’ ability to gather and transmit high fidelity video imagery. See also Oct 21/09 entry.

June 30/10: +3. Northrop Grumman Integrated Systems Sector in San Diego, CA received a maximum $38.3 million modification to a previously awarded firm-fixed-price contract for 3 Low Rate Initial Production MQ-8Bs.

Work will be performed in San Diego, CA, and is expected to be complete in October 2012 (N00019-07-C-0041).

LRIP: 3 more

June 4/10: Rust never sleeps. US Navy Fleet Readiness Center East begins a new role as one of the Navy’s depot repair points for the MQ-8B, accepting 2 VTUAVs for maintenance and a corrosion assessment. That assessment has already resulted in an improved finish to the main rotor head, and is expected to recommend other modifications before they return to the fleet in mid-June 2010.

The Navy currently plans to field 121 Fire Scouts, and currently has 7: 1 trainer, 2 at Northrup Grumman for development work, and 4 serving in the Navy. US NAVAIR.

May 14/10: Rust never sleeps. Civilian artisans from Fleet Readiness Center East perform maintenance and corrosion assessments on 2 MQ-8B Fire Scouts at Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, NC. Corrosion resistance is a key design feature of any naval aircraft, and experience often teaches things that design didn’t anticipate. Hence the in-depth post-deployment checks. US Navy.

May 4/10: Fire-X. Northrop Grumman announces a private development partnership with Bell Helicopter Textron to turn Bell’s 407 helicopter into a medium-range “Fire-X” VTUAV, using Fire Scout’s systems, for a US Navy medium VTUAV competition expected to begin in 2011. When questioned by DID, Northrop Grumman representatives said that:

“We plan to conduct that demo at the Yuma Proving Grounds… We consider Fire Scout and Fire-X to bemembers of the same portfolio of unmanned systems… We have not been notified of any changes on the MQ-8B Fire Scout program of record.”

Requirements creep does happen, however, and if so, a formal change to a program of record is generally the last step, rather than the first. The firms are moving ahead on a fast track, and Fire-X’s first flight is expected by the end of CY 2010. The Bell 407 was the initial basis for the USA’s ARH-70 Arapaho armed reconnaissance helicopter before that program was canceled, and is the base for Iraq’s ongoing ARH program. Fire-X will carry ISR sensors, offer cargo capabilities, and is expected to provide weapons integration as well. Control will be via the Navy’s Tactical Control Station, the U.S. Army’s One System ground control station, or other standards-based systems. Northrop Grumman | The DEW Line.

April 30/10: Medium VTUAV? The US Navy’s OPNAV Assessment Division (N81), with technical support from NAVAIR, NAVSEA and SPAWAR, issues a solicitation that seems to raise the bar for VTUAVs deploying on Navy warships, introducing competition to an arena once owned by the MQ-8B Fire Scout.

The FBO solicitation “Persistent Ship Based UAS RFI” calls for a UAV that can operate from standard Navy ships by 2016-2020, providing mission radius from 300-1,000 nautical miles, on-station endurance of at least 8 hours for a single UAV and up to 72 hours for multiple UAVs, and an operating ceiling of 15,000 – 25,000 feet. Its payload capacity of 600-1,000 pounds must support basic day/night surveillance, including still & full motion video with target quality resolution of small vehicles and personnel, laser designation and range finding (LD/RF), communications interception, and wide area radar. They’d like it to be able to carry weapons, Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) for ground surveillance, or Electronics Intelligence (ELINT) and Measurement and Signature Intelligence (MASINT) packages.

The solicitation is a open RFI, but those characteristics are well beyond the MQ-8B’s maximums. An improved Bell Textron Eagle-Eye VTUAV might qualify… and so would existing specs for Boeing’s A160T Hummingbird Warrior.

Medium VTUAV RFI, Fire-X begins

April 15/10: The MQ-8B returns from its first operational naval deployment, a 6-month SOUTHCOM cruise in the eastern Pacific Ocean aboard the Oliver Hazard Perry Class frigate USS McInerney [FFG 8]. US Navy.

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April 3/10: USS McInerney [FFG 8] becomes the first ship to make a drug bust using a VTUAV. The ship’s Fire Scout was on a post-maintenance check flight, when the operators spotted suspected narcotics smugglers. The US Navy release says that:

“The Mission Payload Operator completed testing and received permission to pursue. Over the course of three hours, Fire Scout monitored the go-fast with McInerney. With its state-of-the-art optics and extremely small profile, Fire Scout was able to maintain an unprecedented covert posture while feeding real-time video back to McInerney.

Fire Scout proceeded to capture video of the “go-fast” meeting with a fishing vessel for what appeared to be a refueling/logistics transfer. McInerney and its embarked USCG LEDET moved in and seized approximately 60 kilos of cocaine and caused the suspected traffickers to jettison another approximately 200 kilos of narcotics.”

April 1/10: Post-Army SAR. The Pentagon releases its April 2010 Selected Acquisitions Report, covering major program changes up to December 2009. The Fire Scout makes the list – and the reason is a slowed production schedule, forcing the Navy to pay the program’s fixed costs over a longer period of time:

“VTUAV (Vertical Takeoff and Land Tactical Unmanned Air Vehicle) – Program costs increased $466.5 million (+21.6%) from $2,158.3 million to $2,624.8 million, due primarily to an increase in air vehicle unit cost resulting from extending procurement at the minimum sustaining rate (+$279.6 million) and the stretch-out of the ground control station and air vehicle procurement profiles from fiscal 2010 to beyond fiscal 2015 (+$164.9 million). There were also increases for initial spares due to component cost increases (+$54.4 million), for integration costs to support an additional ship class (+$35.9 million), and for overseas contingency operations funds to purchase equipment for land-based operations (+$13.4 million). These increases were partially offset by a decrease in other support costs (-$29.3 million) and the application of revised escalation indices (-$49.9 million).”

SAR – Army out

Feb 23/10: Army cancels. Northrop Grumman responds to DID’s queries on the subject, and confirms that the Army’s MQ-8B has been canceled:

“Yes, the Army did cancel the Class IV MQ-8B Fire Scout UAS, their only Vertical Unmanned Aerial System (VUAS) program of record in January, 2010. Obviously, we’re disappointed… In the meantime, we had a very successful demonstration of Fire Scout at the Army’s Expeditionary Warrior Experiment, Ft Benning, Ga. from mid Jan to mid Feb (just days after the Army cancelled the program officially). It was a great opportunity to show soldiers all the things that Fire Scout can do. In addition to its RSTA missions (which the opposition forces at AEWE hated because it revealed their every move), we also demonstrated cargo resupply for small units, comms relay (provided assured comms to all participants in AEWE) and deployment of other unmanned ground systems and unattended ground sensors… We believe that over the long term that the Army wants and needs a vertical unmanned aerial system to support its mission requirements. We continue to have discussions with them…”

The Army probably does need a VTUAV, and MQ-8B will remain an up-to-date platform thanks to development for the US Navy. The Fire Scout may end up taking a short break before receiving an Army order, or this change could open the door to new competitors. Boeing’s A160T Hummingbird VTUAV’s unique rotor technology gives it a larger payload and much longer operating time. This has sparked interest from American Special Forces, and the US Marines. Lockheed Martin and Kaman are competing against the A160T for a USMC resupply contract, and their K-MAX unmanned helicopter could also become a future Army contender if it wins.

Army cancels

Feb 25/10: AEWE Robotic synergy. Northrop Grumman discusses the MQ-8B’s performance in the recent Army Expeditionary Warrior Experiment (AEWE) exercise at Fort Benning, GA. Going beyond previous missions for reconnaissance surveillance target acquisition (RSTA), communications relay, and cargo pod resupply, Fire Scout also demonstrated broader autonomous capabilities, and interoperability with ground robots.

In its most unusual mission, the Fire Scout flew to a named area of interest, surveyed the area to ensure it was clear, and landed autonomously within its pre-planned landing point. When the UAV’s on-board skid sensors detected contact with the ground, a command was sent to release a Dargon Runner robot. The UAV then took off and loitered at a higher altitude to observe and provide a communications relay for the robot’s controller. NGC release | NGC video [Windows Media].

Feb 15/10: Unmanned re-supply. Northrop Grumman announces it demonstrated the resupply capability of its MQ-8B Fire Scout vertical take-off and landing tactical unmanned air vehicle (VTUAV). The company conducted the demonstration at the US Army Expeditionary Warrior Experiment (AEWE) being held in February 2010 at Fort Benning, GA.

For the AEWE mission, Fire Scout had 2 ruggedized containers attached to external pylons. Fire Scout flew autonomously from take-off to the cargo drop to landing. Fire Scout is equipped with a payload interface unit, which allows it to release the cargo pod without the presence of a soldier. Fire Scout’s skid sensors detected contact with the ground. Upon touchdown, the autonomous mission was preplanned for release of the cargo pod, and the aircraft took off again. The VTUAV also used its electro-optical/ infrared optical payload during the mission to practice reconnaissance, surveillance and target acquisition techniques.

Feb 10/10: GAO Report. The US GAO issues #GAO-10-493T as it testifies before the House Armed Services Committee: “Opportunities for the Army to Position Its Ground Force Modernization Efforts for Success.” An excerpt:

“Although the details are not yet complete, the Army took several actions through the end of calendar year 2009. It stopped all development work on the FCS manned ground vehicles – including the non-line of sight cannon – in the summer of 2009 and recently terminated development of the Class IV unmanned aerial vehicle and the countermine and transport variants of the Multifunction Utility/Logistics and Equipment [MULE] unmanned ground vehicle. For the time being, the Army is continuing selected development work under the existing FCS development contract, primarily residual FCS system and network development.”

Dec 1/09: USCG still thinking. Aviation Week reports that the US Coast Guard is still considering its UAV options in the wake of the Eagle Eye tilt-rotor’s cancelaton:

“As part of its ongoing analysis, the service has participated in numerous exercises with other platforms… including Boeing’s A160 Hummingbird, an AeroVironment vehicle and ScanEagle tested on board a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration ship.

Land-based tests of Fire Scout can “only go so far . . . The next step is to figure out how to get it onboard ship,” says Posage. Over the next few weeks, notional plans are being mapped out for just such a test. In a recent call with reporters, Adm. Ron Rabago, Coast Guard acquisitions chief, said the service hopes “to do a cutter-based test in Fiscal 2010.”

Nov 24/09: LRIP-1 delivered. Northrop Grumman announces that it has completed the first year of Fire Scout Low-Rate Initial Production, with the delivery of all 3 MQ-8B Fire Scouts to the U.S. Navy.

At present, 2 of the 3 Fire Scouts are deployed aboard the USS McInerney for a scheduled operational deployment to complete a Fire Scout Military Utility Assessment (MUA), with a US Coast Guard liaison on board. Prior to the current deployment, Fire Scouts have been aboard the USS McInerney 4 times since December 2008, completing 110 ship takeoffs and landings and 45 landings with the harpoon grid, accumulating over 47 hours of flight time.

Oct 19-23/09: Sensors. A company-owned MQ-8B Fire Scout equipped with a Telephonics’ radar and FLIR surveillance turret performs demonstrations for the U.S. Coast Guard Research and Development Center, under a sub-contract awarded in September 2009 by ABS Group. The test took place in the Chesapeake Bay, and were conducted from the Naval Air Station at Patuxent River, MD. Following the maritime sensor demonstration, the Coast Guard participated in a multiple day virtual exercise at the Northrop Grumman Unmanned Systems Development Center in Rancho Bernardo, CA. NGC release.

Oct 21/09: UAE & Saudi Arabia. Abu Dhabi paper The National reports significant interest in the Fire Scout in both the UAE and Saudi Arabia. Gulf nations reportedly see the VTUAV’s capabilities as being very useful in the shallow waters of the Persian/Arabian Gulf and Red Sea, with additional potential for surveillance of critical infrastructure. The report adds that:

“Northrop, which has been developing unmanned systems since the 1940s, puts the potential worldwide market for the Fire Scout at more than 2,000 over the next five years, with more than half coming from international sales… If the UAE decides to purchase the Fire Scout, it would join smaller unmanned systems in its fleet.

The Government has spent the past decade researching the new technology, and has purchased small unmanned surveillance helicopters from Schiebel of Germany and CybAero of Sweden. In 2007, it created its own UAV investment company, now called Abu Dhabi Autonomous Systems Investments Company.”

Oct 5/09: 1st deployment. An MQ-8B Fire Scout deploys aboard the Oliver Hazard Perry class frigate USS McInerney [FFG-8] after over 600 hours of flight testing, with 110 take-off and landings from the frigate. USS McInerney will work with the US Navy’s 4th Fleet on a counter-narcotics deployment in the Caribbean and Latin America, using the Fire Scout in its missions and refining Tactics, Techniques, and Procedures. The move is also a form of live Operational Evaluation for the Fire Scout. US Navy NAVAIR.

1st deployment

FY 2009

Slow orders continue; Army testing of UAV and ground control. RQ-8A: Tow me, launch me.
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Sept 21-25/09: GCS. MQ-8B #P7 completes flight tests at Yuma Proving Ground, CA under the command and control of a new ground control station (GCS). Flight activities will continue at Yuma, in preparation for the Army’s Expeditionary Warrior Experiment at Fort Benning, GA.

Northrop Grumman’s new GCS is compatible with NATO’s STANAG 4586, which means that its Vehicle Specific Module can interface with any STANAG 4586 compatible Core Unmanned Control System (CUCS) module such as that used in the Army’s Universal/One System GCS. The Fire Scout’s GCS contains a Tactical Common Data Link for primary command and control and sensor data downlink, plus multiple radios for voice and secondary command and control. The equipment is hosted on commercial personal computers inside, and the GCS intercommunication system is digital, with an external wireless system for other crew members. Mission planning is accomplished with the Army standard Aviation Mission Planning System. Northrop Grumman | NGC video [Windows Media].

Aug 11/09: Northrop Grumman announces that MQ-8B number P7, a land-based version, successfully completes its RSTA(reconnaissance surveillance and target acquisition) / ISR(intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance) demonstration at Yuma Proving Ground, AZ.

This RSTA/ISR demonstration was conducted with the use of a high-magnification electro-optical, infrared (EO/IR) payload, which includes a long range laser designator and rangefinder (LR/LD). Full motion video was relayed down to ground operators in real time over a Tactical Common Data Link (TCDL). After an autonomous launch, Fire Scout demonstrated its ability to find, fix, and track hostile forces during a real-time operational scenario in complex terrain at night.

June 30/09: Northrop Grumman announces that MQ-8B number P7 has successfully completed first flight operations at Yuma Proving Grounds, AZ. Unlike current Navy-configured Fire Scouts, P7 was built in an operational land-based configuration for the US Army.

P7 is the first MQ-8B to fly without flight test instrumentation normally installed for developmental flights, and is supported by P6, the first company owned Fire Scout. P7’s capability demonstrations will continue throughout summer 2009, with missions in support of land-based operations as a priority.

April 6/09: Sensors. FLIR Systems, Inc announces a $4.1 million Low Rate Initial Production (LRIP) delivery order from Northrop Grumman’s MQ-8 project for FLIR’s BRITE Star II surveillance and targeting turrets. Work will be performed at FLIR’s facilities in Wilsonville, OR. Deliveries are expected to begin in 2009, and conclude in 2010.

March 25/09: TCS. Raytheon in Falls Church, VA received a $16.5 million modification to a previously awarded cost plus award fee, cost plus incentive fee contract (N00019-98-C-0190) to provide additional funds for the development of the MQ-8’s Tactical Control System Block 2, Version 4 software. TCS is an unmanned aircraft system control that can simultaneously control multiple unmanned aircraft and payloads. The TCS system has been confirmed by the NATO STANAG (Standardization Agreement) Committee as being STANAG-4586 conformed, and is currently the only unmanned system command and control software owned by the U.S. government.

TCS uses a Linux-based operating system, and this contract extension will add key capabilities, including upgrade software to control radars and a universal hand control. The contract will also provide support to TCS integration and testing leading to operational evaluation on the MQ-8B Fire Scout program this summer. Work will be performed in Falls Church, VA (82%), Dahlgren, VA (10%), and San Pedro, CA (8%), and is expected to be complete in March 2010. See also: Raytheon release.

Jan 23/09: +3. A $40 million not-to-exceed modification to a previously awarded firm fixed price contract (N00019-07-C-0041) for 3 Low Rate Initial Production RQ-8Bs, including electro-optical surveillance payloads and support. In addition to the UAVs, Northrop Grumman will supply 3 Ground Control Stations, 3 Light Harpoon Grids, 3 UCARS (UAV common automatic recovery systems), and 6 Portable Electronic Display devices.

This is the last of is the last of 3 planned low-rate initial production (LRIP) buys, before OpEval and an expected decision on full rate production. Work will be performed in San Diego, CA, and is expected to be complete in March 2011. See also Northrop Grumman release.

LRIP: 3 more

FY 2008

Navy MQ-8B moves beyond LCS, will get radar; USCG opportunity? RQ-8A & LPD-13
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Sept 19/08: Sensors. One of Northrop Grumman’s company-owned MQ-8Bs uses a non-developmental (i.e. not yet part of the program) Telephonics RDR-1700B search, surveillance, tracking and imaging radar system to search for, detect, and track multiple targets during a test surveillance mission. at the Yuma Proving Ground, AZ.

See also March 19/08 entry. The ultimate goal is to demonstrate a maritime search radar capability, and this flight was the first of several radar demonstrations that will eventually include an over-water search trial. NGC release.

Aug 20/08: Sensors. FLIR Systems, Inc. announces that they have completed the initial flight test of their BRITE Star II sensor and targeting turret on Northrop Grumman’s MQ-8B.

March 25/08: Raytheon Missile Systems in Tucson, AZ won a $17.3 million cost contract for “applied research and advanced technology demonstration of an advanced Multi-Mode Sensor Suite to support [VTUAV] intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance, and targeting missions in the littoral combat environment.”

Work will be performed in Tucson, AZ and is expected to be complete in September 2012. This contract was competitively procured under a Broad Agency Announcement; 5 offers were received by the Naval Air Warfare Center Weapons Division in China Lake, CA (N68936-08-C-0034).

March 19/08: Sensors. The Navy has decided to commit funds in 2009 to develop a radar capability on Fire Scout, a gap that had been one of the US Coast Guard’s objections to buying it. Demonstrations have been conducted in 2003 using a Predator’s Lynx SAR on an RQ-8A alongside an electro-optical/infrared system.

A similar demonstration will now take place using a non-developmental Telephonics RDR-1700B maritime surveillance and imaging radar on an MQ-8B Fire Scout owned by Northrop Grumman. Radar integration and installation will take place at Northrop Grumman’s Unmanned Systems Development Centers in San Diego, CA and in Moss Point, MS. Demonstration flights will be conducted at Webster Field; Naval Air Station Patuxent River, MD; or Yuma Proving Ground, AZ. NGC release.

March 3/08: USCG Opportunity? After receiving the service’s formal “Deepwater alternatives analysis” in February 2008, US Coast Guard Chief Acquisition Officer Rear Adm. Gary Blore forwards recommendations to Coast Guard senior leadership in a formal decision memorandum. Commandant Adm. Thad Allen is expected to approve Blore’s decision in the near future.

The report reportedly recommends that the Coast Guard adapt the Navy’s MQ-8B Fire Scout helicopter UAV for its new Bertholf Class National Security Cutters, and the Coast Guard has asked for $3 million in its FY 2009 budget to study UAVs that might replace the suspended Eagle eye tilt-rotor project. The service doesn’t anticipate deployment before 2014, however, on the ground that no current design meets its needs yet. Rear Adm. Blore notes that the Fire Scout does not yet have a surface-search radar package, for instance, and says that it can’t be deployed out of sight of its carrying ship. Inside the Navy’s March 10/08 report [PDF] | Gannett’s Navy Times report | Aero News report

Feb 20/08: Northrop Grumman announces that the US Navy will move to integrate the Fire Scout into another “air capable ship” besides the Littoral Combat Ships. Landing isn’t the issue; it’s a question of testing the interface, integrating the data management, and looking at maintenance and supportability. The Navy and Northrop Grumman are working together to define and develop a roll-on/roll-off Fire Scout ship deployment package that would make expanding the number of compatible ships much easier.

According to the current schedule, the Navy will conduct Technical Evaluation on the Fire Scout on the designated ship in the fall 2008 and OpEval in the summer 2009. The Fire Scout will reach Initial Operating Capability soon after OpEval in 2009. No details are given re: ship type, but the Navy’s DDG-51 Arleigh Burke Class destroyers and GC-47 Ticonderoga Class cruisers are natural choices, and both are undergoing modernization programs that may ease integration. LCS Initial Operational Test and Evaluation (IOT&E) efforts are still planned for FY 2011. NGC release.

Dec 21/07: +3. A $15 million modification to a previously awarded (Sept 14/07?), unfinalized contract action for 3 Low Rate Initial Production Fire Scout VTUAV air vehicles, including support. Work will be performed in San Diego, CA, and is expected to be complete in July 2009 (N00019-07-C-0041).

LRIP: 3 MQ-8Bs

Dec 15/07: The first MQ-8B flight test with expected shipboard equipment takes place at the Webster Field annex of Naval Air Station in Patuxent River, MD. The Test and Training Control Segment replicates the containerized consoles and other equipment being integrated into Littoral Combat Ships, and integrates the latest B2V4 Tactical Control Segment (TCS) software designed and produced by Raytheon’s Intelligence and Information Systems business. Block 2, Version 4 incorporates provisions for both the baseline FLIR Systems BRITE Star II electro-optical and infrared (EO/IR) payload, and the Northrop Grumman COBRA multi-spectral mine detection payload. Additional payloads will be integrated into the air vehicle and control segment in the future, via a standardized interface.

The current phase of flight test for the VTUAV program covers operations with the new control segment and land based shipboard recovery system testing using UCARS (UAV Common Automatic Recovery System) in preparation for the sea trials in 2009. The next major phase of flight test in early 2008 will include operations with EO/IR payloads using the Tactical Common Data Link (TCDL) data link. NGC’s Jan 7/08 release.

FY 2007

Milestone C allows low-rate production; Army MQ-8B testing begins; 1st Navy MQ-8B flies. Approach.
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Sept 14/07: A $7.1 million modification to a previously awarded undefinitized contract action for supplies and additional long-lead production items in support of Fire Scout low-rate production. Work will be performed in San Diego, CA, and is expected to be complete in March 2009 (N00019-07-C-0041).

Sept 10/07: C-130 loading. A cooperative effort between the U.S. Navy, U.S. Army, U.S. Marine Corps and Northrop Grumman Corporation demonstrates joint service interoperability, and certifies the MQ-8B for transport in C-130 airlifters (2 per C-130).

As part of an ongoing Navy Fire Scout contract, a Navy MQ-8B was transported from Northrop Grumman’s Unmanned Systems Center in Moss Point, MS to Naval Air Station Patuxent River, MD facility in the American northeast for flight test operations. The Navy is continuing Fire Scout developmental testing at nearby Webster Field in St. Inigoes, Md. As part of the effort, a US Army MQ-8B was also loaded into the US Marine Corps KC-130T airlifter, to demonstrate that a tandem load was possible.

The transport then unloaded the Army Fire Scout, and took Navy, Marine Corps, U.S. Department of Defense and Northrop Grumman personnel aboard who are associated with the development of procedures, test plans, and equipment required for air transport of the MQ-8B. NGC release.

May 31/07: Milestone C. The U.S. Department of Defense has announced that the MQ-8B Fire Scout has reached Milestone C, signifying the beginning of its low-rate initial production (LRIP) phase. The Fire Scout is the first unmanned aircraft system (UAS) within the U.S. Navy and the third UAS of all U.S. military branches to reach Milestone C. The Fire Scout program remains on track to conduct payload flights in fall 2007 and enter initial operational evaluation, and then achieve initial operational capability in 2008 as planned. Northrop Grumman release.

Milestone C

May 22/07: Army. Northrop Grumman Corporation announces a successful engine run of the first U.S. Army Class IV UAV MQ-8B Fire Scout Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV), its proposed division-level UAV in its Future Combat Systems (FCS) mega-project.

The engine run marks completion of final assembly of the initial manufacturing phase of the first Army Fire Scout. The FCS Fire Scout has now completed the initial assembly process and “will await delivery of mission avionics and sensors (see note above, re: delays).” The event took place at NGC’s Unmanned Systems Center in Moss Point, MS. Northrop Grumman release.

December 2006: Navy. The U.S. Navy’s MQ-8B Fire Scout made its first flight in December 2006 at the Webster Field annex of Patuxent River Naval Air Station in St. Inigoes, MD. See this US Navy release for test details.

1st Navy MQ-8B flight

Dec 14/06: +2. A $16.2 million modification to a previously awarded cost-plus-incentive-award-fee contract for 2 MQ-8B Fire Scout Vertical Takeoff Unmanned Vehicles (VTUAV) including Concept of Operations support. Work will be performed in San Diego, CA and is expected to be complete in October 2008. All contract funds will expire at the end of the current fiscal year (N00019-00-C-0277).

The Navy now has (7+2=) 9 Fire Scouts on contract with Northrop Grumman.

This award will assist the Navy in refining the Fire Scout concept of operations, including operational test and evaluation as well as some spiral development preparations and test of future payloads. Northrop Grumman will work closely with the Navy to refine the system description, including core capabilities, and anticipated deployment and employment for the VTUAV system and other aviation assets aboard the Littoral Combat Ship. Operational requirements may include real-time video imagery collection, intelligence gathering, communications-relay capability, precision targeting and battle damage assessment. See Northrop Grumman Feb 6/07 release.

2 MQ-8Bs

FY 2005 – 2006

1st autonomous landing on board ship; RQ-8B becomes MQ-8B; Push to finish development. Touchdown.
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July 28/06: A $135.8 million modification to a previously awarded cost-plus-incentive-award-fee contract for continued development and testing of the RQ-8B Fire Scout. The award specifies the remaining portion of the work to complete the program’s systems development and demonstration (SDD) phase through 2008. A total of 9 Navy MQ-8B Fire Scouts are planned under the VTUAV SDD contract.

Work will be performed in San Diego, CA (81%); Moss Point, MS (7%); Horsehead, NY (6%); Wilsonville, OR (4%); and Wayne, NJ (2%) and is expected to be complete in August 2008. It’s issued under a cost-share, cost-plus-fixed-fee contract (N00019-00-C-0277).

Development extended

March 20/06: A $29.3 million modification to a previously awarded contract for the continued development and testing of the RQ-8 Fire Scout vertical takeoff unmanned air vehicle (VTUAV). Work will be performed in San Diego, CA (85%) and Elmira, NY (15%), and is expected to be completed in June 2006. It’s issued under a cost-share, cost-plus-fixed-fee contract (N00019-00-C-0277).

Jan 17/06: 1st sea landing. A RQ-8A Fire Scout Vertical Takeoff and Landing Tactical Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (VTUAV) System lands on USS Nashville [LPD-13], completing the platform’s first autonomous landing aboard a Navy vessel at sea.

1st autonomous at-sea landing

Dec 15/05: $8.3 million modification adds funds for shipboard testing of the RQ-8 Fire Scout, including shipboard installation and flight testing on the wave-piercing catamaran High Speed Vessel USS Swift.

Dec 8/05: TCDL. Spinoff from the Oct 7/05 award. Northrop Grumman gives Cubic of San Diego an $11 million subcontract to supply the its high-speed data link, plus air and ground data terminals, to serve as the wireless connection between the Fire Scout and control stations aboard Littoral Combat Ships.

Fire Scout is scheduled to be operational in 2008, so the data link will be integrated into the Fire Scout beginning in March 2007, with a testing period to follow. The RQ-8B Fire Scout is the first Defense Department UAV to incorporate Cubic’s tactical common data link (TCDL). Cubic has about 5,950 employees and annual sales of $722 million. Washington Technology

Oct 7/05: $5.8 million modification for the design, manufacture and test of a shipboard compatible control station for the Fire Scout VTUAV so it can operate from the USA’s new Littoral Combat Ships (LCS). Work on this contract will be performed in Owego, NY (65%) and San Diego, CA (35%) and is expected to be complete in June 2006 (N00019-00-C-0190).

July 22/05: The RQ-8 Fire Scout unmanned air vehicle (UAV) successfully fires 2 test rockets at Arizona’s Yuma Proving Grounds, marking the first successful live weapons fire from an autonomous unmanned helicopter. NGC release.

June 30/05: +2. $15.2 million modification to buy 2 MQ-8B Fire Scout Unmanned Air Vehicles, including 2 associated payloads and non-recurring engineering services. It’s issued under a cost-share, cost-plus-fixed-fee contract (N00019-00-C-0277).

2 MQ-8s

June 30/05: RQ-8 to MQ-8B. The upgraded, new model Fire Scout is formally redesignated from RQ-8B to MQ-8B per a letter from HQ USAF/XPPE. The switch designates a shift from a pure reconnaissance platform to one with multi-mission capability that includes attack roles.

MQ-8 now

April 5/05: $11.7 million modification or the procurement of Fire Scout Unmanned Air Vehicle (UAV) hardware for the U.S. Army in support of the Future Combat System as its Class IV brigade-level UAV. Hardware to be procured includes 8 each airframes, identify friend or foe transponders, and radar altimeters and 16 each global positioning systems/inertial navigation systems, antennas; pressure transducers; and precision differents. It’s issued under a cost-share, cost-plus-fixed-fee contract (N00019-00-C-0277).

FY 2000 – 2004

Initial contract; Program sidelined, then restarted. General Dynamics Team
Trimaran LCS Design
(click to enlarge)

March 26/04: TCS. Raytheon Co. in Falls Church, VA received a $36.8 million not-to-exceed, cost-plus-award-fee/ incentive-fee modification for tactical control system (TCS) software to support the Navy Fire Scout unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) integration onto the littoral combat ship. It will also provide the TCS engineering and test support for the Fire Scout system to achieve initial operational capability. Work will be performed in Falls Church, VA (56%); Dahlgren, VA (30%); San Pedro, CA (10%); and State College, PA (4%), and is expected to be complete in March 2008. The Naval Air Systems Command in Patuxent River, MD issued the contract (N00019-00-C-0277).

March 2/04: A $49 million ceiling-priced undefinitized modification for the continued development and testing of the Fire Scout Unmanned Air Vehicle (UAV) System, including the procurement of two engineering and manufacturing, development RQ-8B Fire Scout UAVs. It’s issued under a cost-share, cost-plus-fixed-fee contract (N00019-00-C-0277).

2 RQ-8s

May 1/01: +1. A $14.2 million modification exercises an option for one (1) Fire Scout Vertical Take-Off and Landing Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (VTUAV) System, its associated support equipment, data, and initial training. It’s issued under a cost-share, cost-plus-fixed-fee contract (N00019-00-C-0277).


Feb 9/2000: EMD/SDD? A $93.7 million cost-plus-incentive-fee, award-fee contract for the engineering and manufacturing development (EMD) phase of the vertical takeoff and landing tactical unmanned aerial vehicle (VTUAV) program (N00019-00-C-0277).

EMD Phase

Additional Readings & Sources Background: Fire Scout

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Indian, Japanese and US navies participate in exercise Malabar 2016

Naval Technology - Fri, 10/06/2016 - 01:00
The maritime forces of India, Japan and the US are participating in the 20th annual edition of Exercise Malabar 2016 in the Western Pacific Ocean, off the east coast of Okinawa.
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