A MQ-8B Fire Scout operates in the Atlantic Ocean with the frigate McInerney in 2009. The Navy has plans to arm Fire Scouts with air-to-surface missiles. (MC2 Alan Gragg / Navy)
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The MQ-8B Fire Scout unmanned aerial vehicle may soon head to sea with a major upgrade: air-to-surface missiles.
The Navy's drone helicopter, which recently finished its second deployment, will start carrying either Raytheon' Griffin or BAE's Advanced Precision Kill Weapon System, two small missiles that would give an aircraft designed for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance a deadly capability.
The Navy test-fired missiles from Fire Scout in 2005. Now it's a matter of waiting for funding to arm the rotary-wing unmanned vehicle, said Capt. Patrick Smith, Fire Scout program manager, at the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International conference.
Northrop Grumman, the aircraft's developer, is working to integrate a Griffin onto the UAV and will likely demonstrate the system later this month, but ideally, the aircraft will be able to carry several different types of missiles, Smith said.
"We would like to become agnostic with what weapon goes onboard" and carry whatever missile can be used effectively, he said.
Fire Scouts have already deployed in situations were armaments could have been a game changer. On June 21, one of three aircraft deployed on the frigate Halyburton was shot down by forces loyal to Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi while flying over that country's central coast. The aircraft was below cloud layers in an area known to have anti-air defenses, a risky environment for any aircraft, said Rear Adm. William Shannon, program executive officer for unmanned aviation and strike weapons.
While the Fire Scout will soon be armed, preparations are also underway for deploying the aircraft on the littoral combat ship Independence. A date hasn't been set, but dynamic interface testing is expected to begin sometime in fiscal 2012. The aircraft was designed specifically for flying from LCSs — its forthcoming weapon system will integrate into existing mission modules — but so far it has only deployed with frigates McInerney and Halyburton. Due to scheduling issues, it's possible that an armed Fire Scout will make its debut on another frigate, Smith said.