The Northrop Grumman MQ-8B Fire Scout has returned from its first operational deployment, aboard the USS Halyburton. Two aircraft were deployed initially; one was replaced after it was shot down over Libya on June 21. The aircraft flew approximately 435h during the deployment, including combat operations.
The aircraft were subject to a blistering June report from the Department of Defense, which suggested the aircraft was unreliable and unsuitable for real-time intelligence missions.
At AUVSI, Rear Admiral Bill Shannon, the Navy's program executive officer for unmanned aviation, said the aircraft accomplished its missions at a rate higher than the report indicates, indicating some disagreement about definitions.
Captain Patrick Smith
Shannon placed the effectiveness of the MQ-8B at around 70 percent, as opposed to the report's 50%.
Another shipboard deployment is confirmed, said Navy program manager Captain Patrick Smith, upon a littoral combat ship, but stated that there is no specific deployment date set beyond FY12.
Three airframes are currently deployed to northern Afghanistan in response to an urgent operational requirement from the intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance task force. The aircraft have flown a combined total of roughly 950h to date.