The U.S. Navy awarded Northrop Grumman a contract to build six more MQ-8C unmanned helicopters based on the Bell 407, bringing to 14 the number of new, larger Fire Scouts under contract. The Navy plans to acquire a total of 30 MQ-8Cs under a rapid development effort that calls for deployment next year.
Last April, the Navy awarded Northrop Grumman a contract to build two demonstration and six production MQ-8Cs, with a not-to-exceed cost of $262 million. The company announced the latest contract award for six more helicopters on March 12; it is valued at $71 million.
The MQ-8C will be larger and have greater range, endurance and payload capacity than the current Northrop Grumman MQ-8B, which is based on the Sikorsky-Schweizer 333 light helicopter. Earlier this year, Northrop Grumman informed AIN that it had delivered 23 MQ-8Bs, which were designed to operate initially from guided-missile frigates and then new littoral combat ships. Three have been reported lost in crashes. On March 12, the Naval Air Systems Command said that MQ-8Bs “are routinely flying 17-hour days” off the USS Robert G. Bradley while providing 12-hour, on-station intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance coverage in the U.S. Africa Command area of responsibility.
Northrop Grumman said manufacturing and assembly operations of the MQ-8C variant “are well under way across the country.” Airframe modifications are being done at a Bell Helicopter facility in Ozark, Ala., with final assembly by Northrop Grumman’s Unmanned Systems Center in Moss Point, Miss.
In a separate announcement, Northrop Grumman said on March 4 that it is consolidating activities within its manned aircraft, unmanned systems and electronic attack businesses at designated centers of design and integration excellence. Work on the MQ-4C Triton in Bethpage, N.Y., and on the NATO Alliance Ground Surveillance program in Melbourne, Fla., will move to the company’s Rancho Bernardo facility in San Diego, which has been designated the unmanned systems center of excellence. The MQ-4C and the NATO AGS are Global Hawk derivatives.