The US Navy (USN) declared initial operational capability (IOC) for the Northrop Grumman MQ-8C Fire Scout unmanned helicopter on 28 June.
IOC clears the way for the unmanned air vehicle (UAV) to begin fleet operations and training, says the USN. The MQ-8C is to deploy aboard the USN’s littoral combat ships in FY2021, and is intended for intelligence, and surveillance and reconnaissance, as well as precision targeting.
The UAV is based on the commercial Bell 407 airframe, albeit with seats and other manned avionics equipment stripped out and replaced with remote controls and extra fuel tanks. The aircraft has a flight endurance of 12h, a max payload of 318kg (700lb) and a range of 150nm (278km). That performance makes it more capable than its predecessor, the smaller MQ-8B, which was based on the Schweizer 333 light helicopter.
The MQ-8C will also be equipped with a Leonardo Osprey 30 lightweight active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar that allows for a larger field of view compared to the MQ-8B’s radar. The radar also includes a range of digital modes including weather detection, air-to-air targeting and a ground-moving target indicator.
The MQ-8C has flown over 1,500h with more than 700 sorties to date, says the USN. Over the next few years, Northrop Grumman plans to deliver 38 examples of the MQ-8C to the USN.