The US Navy has ordered six additional Northrop Grumman MQ-8C Fire Scouts, representing the second lot from a planned total for 30 of the vertical take-off and landing unmanned air vehicles. Worth $71.6 million, the deal also covers the provision of seven ground control stations, the US Department of Defense says.

The aircraft will start deploying in 2014, says the navy. The MQ-8B, a previous version based on the smaller Schweizer 333 platform, has three times deployed with the USN in support of special operations forces both at sea and in Afghanistan.

This latest buy is notable, coming on the heels of a defence budget sequestration act that will reduce the navy's budget by around 10%: a cut that threatens many influential programmes, including Northrop's RQ-4 Global Hawk.

The navy had already purchased six low-rate initial production MQ-8Cs, in addition to two for testing purposes. The new-generation Fire Scout is derived from the Bell 407 helicopter.

Source: Flight International