The Northrop Grumman MQ-8B Fire Scout is to be weaponised, with the unmanned helicopter to be outfitted with the BAE Systems advanced precision kill weapon system (APKWS) II - a 70mm (2.75in) rocket retrofitted with a laser guidance system.
Although the aircraft was designed with weaponisation in mind, the US Navy had until now not requested it. Its existing aircraft will undergo software modifications to accept the rockets, including a weapons management computer.
Northrop demonstrated weapons release from the Fire Scout during a 2006 company-funded trial. There are currently no plans to weaponise the follow-on MQ-8C. Delivery of the first weaponised MQ-8B is slated for March 2013.
The navy has also elected to extend an MQ-8B deployment in Afghanistan until October 2012. Three aircraft were deployed to the north of the country in May 2011 to provide a combined 300h of full-motion video coverage per month. The aircraft have flown roughly 1,800h to date, according to Northrop.
Meanwhile, an operational deployment of the Fire Scout aboard the US Navy frigate the USS Halyburton has been deemed largely successful, despite the loss of one aircraft in Libya.