Northrop Grumman is the Navy's prime contractor for the MQ-8 Fire Scout program of record. "The endurance upgrade doubles the time on station of the MQ-8 system and will help reduce the workload for the ship's crew by cutting the number of times the crew will need to be in flight quarters," explains George Vardoulakis, vice president, medium range tactical systems for Northrop Grumman. "Ground and flight testing are the next steps in meeting the urgent requirement for maritime intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR).”
The company delivered the first MQ-8C aircraft to the Navy earlier this month in preparation for ground and flight testing. “Testing on the Naval Air Systems Command test range provides us with extended air space to conduct and demonstrate long endurance and systems testing in a maritime environment," Vardoulakis adds.
The tests will be used to validate and mature the upgraded MQ-8 system for operational use. Initial ground testing will ensure that the systems work properly and communicate with the ground control station prior to conducting first flight. The MQ-8 system with the upgraded MQ-8C aircraft will share proven software, avionics, payloads, and ship ancillary equipment with the MQ-8B aircraft.
The upgraded Fire Scout responds to an urgent need to provide the Navy with increased endurance, range, and payload. Using a modified commercially available airframe, the upgraded MQ-8 system can provide commanders with three times the payload and double the endurance at extended ranges compared to the current MQ-8B variant.
The MQ-8B aircraft operates on Navy frigates and in Afghanistan, where it provides ISR capabilities to maritime and ground commanders.
The first deployment of the upgraded MQ-8 system with the MQ-8C Fire Scout aircraft will be in 2014.