Vertical take-off and landing UAV could be used to search for explosives before 2008

Northrop Grumman expects to know by early December if trials will go ahead of an MQ-8B Fire Scout vertical take-off and landing unmanned air vehicle (VTUAV) equipped to search for mines, booby-traps and road-side bombs in Iraq. The decision will be made by the US Department of Defense's Joint Improvised Explosive Devices (IED) Defeat Office (JIEDDO).

Revealing new details about the potential application for the MQ-8B (Flight International, 17-23 October), Joe Emerson, Northrop's Army Future Combat Systems (FCS) Class IV UAV programme director, says: "It would be a phased approach, beginning with testing at Yuma, Arizona for an 18-month effort. If that was acceptable, it would go overseas for around 90 days of demonstrations."

The Northrop proposal to JIEDDO covers the use of three of the first four MQ-8Bs that are earmarked for the delayed Class IV FCS. "By early December we hope we will have a position from the JIEDDO office on whether to go forward or not," says Emerson, who adds that "depending on the success of it, the vehicles could stay in-country".

Assuming an early 2007 start, the planned schedule could see the first MQ-8B deployed to Iraq by the end of 2008. In its anti-IED role, the MQ-8B would have Northrop's Airborne Standoff Minefield Detection System incorporating an electro-optical/infrared sensor and a quad prism aperture-splitting sensor. The system, which was developed under a US Army contract in 2003, also includes a laser illuminator and range-finder designator.

"The benefit is to get this technology out there saving lives," says Emerson, who adds that the mission would also provide the army with a valuable opportunity to evaluate the MQ-8B and its systems well ahead of its deployment for the FCS, a milestone not now scheduled until 2014. Early Block 0 versions of the General Atomics Warrior extended-range multipurpose UAV are also being sent to Iraq in support of the same anti-IED mission under funding from JIEDDO, with six due for delivery by the end of December.

Source: Flight International