The US Navy has operationally deployed the MQ-8C Fire Scout autonomous helicopter aboard the USS Milwaukee.
The Northrop Grumman next-generation ship-based aircraft is an upgrade on the MQ-8B uncrewed helicopter serving US Navy Littoral Combat Ships in the 5th and 7th Fleets.
The MQ-8C’s range of 1,000 nautical miles is 10 times its predecessor’s. Its flight endurance of over 10 hours is more than three times that of the MQ-8B, providing a tremendous leap in intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance, and real-time, over-the-horizon targeting capability.
The aircraft can operate from a range of vessels and is capable of autonomously taking off and landing on “any aviation-capable ship and from prepared and unprepared landing zones.”
Based on the airframe of the commercial Bell 407 helicopter, the MQ-8C’s Leonardo AN/ZPY-8 (Osprey) radar “enables it to detect and automatically track contacts at extremely long ranges, at night, and even in stormy weather conditions when visibility is extremely poor,” allowing more focused and efficient use of the unmanned aircraft.
“The transition from the MQ-8B to the MQ-8C Fire Scout has brought improved sensors and more than doubles the on-station endurance,” MQ-8 Fire Scout program manager Capt. Eric Soderberg said.
“Advances in Fire Scout’s capabilities further our successful integration of unmanned platforms at sea and the Navy and Marine Corps unmanned campaign plan.”