Northrop Grumman is working on improvements to the RQ-A Fire Scout vertical take-off unmanned air vehicle (VTUAV) as it tries to reverse the US Navy's decision to delete production funding for the system. The USN has shifted its focus to the Global Hawk - but the company believes there is still a requirement for a tactical adjunct to its high-altitude, long-endurance UAV, particularly for the US Marine Corps.

Northrop Grumman thinks it can reduce the target location error of the Fire Scout's electro-optical/infrared payload to enable targeting for global positioning system (GPS) satellite-guided precision weapons. The payload incorporates a laser designator/rangefinder, and the requirement calls for a targeting accuracy of better than 25m (80ft). The company calculates its worst-case performance to be better than 17m - and could be improved to better than 10m, adequate to target GPS-guided munitions, with a software patch in the Fire Scout's navigation system, says Northrop Grumman.

Weight reductions will increase 24h endurance, the company says. The first development Fire Scout is expected to meet the 3h threshold, with the first production vehicle exceeding the requirement. Northrop Grumman has built two risk-reduction prototypes with its own funds, the second of which is due to fly in May, and is under contract to build two engineering and manufacturing development vehicles plus the first three low-rate initial production Fire Scouts for operational evaluation. But plans for 12 USN and 11 USMC systems, each with three air vehicles, are in limbo. "We believe there is a misunderstanding of the relationship of tactical UAVs to Global Hawk," the company says. "[Fire Scout] is an on-demand system for the tactical user."

Source: Flight International