The U.S. Navy revealed yesterday that the Northrop Grumman MQ-8B Fire Scout is to be temporarily “decoupled” from the Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) program. The decision was taken so that the MQ-8B can be fielded on schedule, despite delays to the LCS. The Navy remains committed to deploying the MQ-8B aboard LCS at some stage, but is migrating the Fire Scout to another class of vessel in the interim. A decision on which class it will use is due in the coming days, with the FFG-7 frigate the most likely candidate.
Northrop Grumman has delivered three of the 12 low-rate production MQ-8Bs currently on order for the Navy, with the fourth about to be handed over from its facility at Moss Point, Missouri. Up to 131 are required.
Initial Operational Capability (IOC) is set for FY09, and the decision to move away from the LCS keeps that date on track. Full operating capability is slated for 2010. In terms of payload, the Brite Star II EO/IR/laser turret is currently cleared, and the Cobra littoral mine detection system is on test. Funds have been requested in FY09 for integration of a maritime multi-mode radar. The MQ-8B is slated to gain weapons in the form of LOGIR IR-guided rocket, Viper Strike missile and a lightweight antisubmarine torpedo.