The US Navy plans to attempt the first landing - possibly as early as September - of the Northrop Grumman RQ-8A Fire Scout on a high-speed vessel (HSV) acting as a surrogate for the future class of littoral combat ship (LCS).

The test is a milestone for the navy, which is developing Fire Scout to support the LCS programme and is aiming for initial operational capability in 2008. Future development is focused on the enhanced-capability, four-bladed RQ-8B variant, the first two of which are scheduled to be delivered for test and evaluation by October 2005. Current tests using the first batch of RQ-8A versions continues at Webster Field, Maryland, where more than 115 flights and over 100 flight hours have been amassed.

After the HSV shipboard demonstration and integration testing phase, the navy plans noise signature reduction tests involving changes to the tail rotor. It is also studying arming the RQ-8B with the 70mm (2.75in) advanced precision kill weapon system, which will work with laser designator systems.

Further evaluation of other "plug-and-play" payloads is planned "as they become available", says the navy. The RQ-8B has also been selected by the US Army as its preferred Class IV UAV for its Future Combat Systems programme.


Source: Flight International