The U.S. Naval Air Systems Command (Navair) reported progress in arming the MQ-8B Fire Scout UAV, which will be the Navy’s first sea-based unmanned system to carry weapons. The command said its structures rotary-wing division and the Northrop Grumman Fire Scout team are “working briskly” at Webster Field Annex in Patuxent River, Md., to support an urgent operational needs request from Naval Forces Central Command. Final delivery of an operational system is expected by March next year.
Navair awarded Fire Scout prime contractor Northrop Grumman a $17 million contract last September to arm the helicopter with the BAE Systems Advanced Precision Kill Weapon System (APKWS), a laser-guided 2.75-inch (70-mm) rocket. The first intended platforms for the APKWS were the AH-1W and UH-1Y manned helicopters of the U.S. Marine Corps. The weapon was test-fired from a UH-1Y last September.
The Naval Air Warfare Center aircraft and weapons divisions will conduct ground and flight tests of the armed MQ-8B, which is based on the Sikorsky-Schweizer 333, later this year at Webster Field and China Lake, Calif., Navair said. Separately, the Navy plans a “capability upgrade” to the MQ-8C Fire Scout based on the larger Bell 407.
Arming the Fire Scout with a guided rocket will enable ships to engage hostile threats without seeking air support from carrier or shore-based aircraft, Navair said. “This is the first weaponization program on this aircraft,” stated Jeremy Moore, Fire Scout weapons system integration lead. “It was identified by the fleet as an urgent need for joint forces, so we are pressing forward as hard as we can to get it out there.”