Northrop Grumman will roll-out the first US Navy MQ-4C in June, company and USN officials say.
The first USN test aircraft is about to enter ground testing, says Captain Jim Hoke, Naval Air Systems Command's (NAVAIR) programme manager for the Broad Area Maritime Surveillance (BAMS) unmanned maritime surveillance jet. "Our goal is to have the first flight in early fall," he says-his slides say that date is expected in September. But before then, Northrop Grumman is planning on formally rolling-out the aircraft on 14 June.
The BAMS is expected to become operational in December 2015 with a four-aircraft orbit. The USN hopes to have a five orbit fleet, Hoke says. It will take 68 aircraft to sustain that force over the programme's life due to potential attrition and depot maintenance. But no aircraft will be needed for training, he says, since crews can train purely in a simulator.
In the future, the BAMS will be used as communications relay and it will also takeover part of the Lockheed Martin EP-3 Aries intelligence gathering aircraft's mission, Hoke says. While he says he cannot talk about specifics, the BAMS will likely absorb a portion of the signals intelligence part of that mission.
Captain Aaron Rondeau, programme manager for the new Boeing P-8 maritime patrol aircraft says that future Neptune crews could take partial control of the BAMS aircraft during a mission. That capability would be part of an Increment 3 upgrade for the P-8, Rondeau says.