Flight tests of the Northrop Grumman MQ-8C Fire Scout UAV with an advanced search radar are underway with the US Navy.

Flight testing with the Leonardo AN/ZPY-8 Osprey radar commenced from the US Navy’s Patuxent River testing facility in late February, says Northrop.

“The AN/ZPY-8 radar significantly increases Fire Scout’s detection and tracking of targets,” says Melissa Packwood, program manager, tactical autonomous systems at Northrop Grumman.

“The ability to simultaneously employ multiple modes supports U.S. Navy intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance requirements. This increased capability enables Fire Scout to extend ranges to meet emerging requirements.”

Several weeks of ground testing took place before the unmanned rotorcraft operated its first flight with the new radar on 27 February.

The navy has received 32 of 38 MQ-8Cs says Northrop. All will be retrofitted with the AN/ZPY-8.

It adds that the type obtained initial operational capability in June 2019 and is scheduled for its first deployment in 2021.

Leonardo originally announced the MQ-8C radar deal in 2016.

“Employing high-frequency radio waves to ‘see’, an Osprey-equipped MQ-8C Fire Scout can detect targets at extremely long ranges, at night and even in stormy weather conditions when visibility is extremely poor,” said the company.

“The radar’s world-first flat-panel technology also means it can be installed within the mould line of the helicopter rather than having to use an underslung belly-pod.”