The Northrop Grumman MQ-8B Fire Scout departed 17 January aboard the USS Simpson on its third operational deployment. The US Navy frigate is scheduled to spend six months off the coast of West Africa and in the Mediterranean supporting US and allied operations.

Two airframes are deployed aboard the Simpson, providing the ship's sole aviation capability. Previous deployments, most recently aboard the USS Halyburton, had seen the unmanned aircraft accompanied by the standard Sikorsky MH-60 Seahawk.

"This is an operational deployment that the US Navy will utilize as they deem necessary in the performance of the APS (Africa Partership Station) mission. The APS mission will involve operating with several countries in collaborative exercises and law enforcement operations in the maritime environment," said the navy. "These countries include Sierra Leone, Cape Verde, Senegal, The Gambia, Cameroon, Ghana, Nigeria, Republic of Congo, Togo, and Sierra Leone."

The aircraft are operated by a reserve detachment from helicopter squadron HSL-60, which has been training on the aircraft at its base in Mayport, Florida.

 Fire Scout - Northrop Grumman

© Northrop Grumman

The Halyburton deployment, initially slated to join an international task force off the Somali coast, saw the ship diverted to support operations in Libya last year. One Fire Scout was shot down by Libyan forces during an operational mission.

Three other aircraft are currently deployed to Afghanistan, providing intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance services to NATO forces in the northern part of the country. A deployment aboard the USS Klakring is scheduled in the second quarter of 2012.

Source: Flight International