SAS12: Fire Scout’s next evolution

SAS12: Fire Scout’s next evolution

Northrop Grumman and the Navy have high hopes for the MQ-8 Fire Scout unmanned helicopter, but first they have to get cleared to fly again.

The Navy’s existing fleet of Fire Scouts was prohibited from flying — though not, its program manager said Tuesday, technically “grounded” — after two crashes in action a few weeks ago. The Fire Scout that crashed on March 30 near the frigate USS Simpson didn’t even technically crash, insisted Navy Capt. Patrick Smith; its crew couldn’t coax it in to land, and after 17 tries, sailors ordered the robo-helo to ditch in the ocean and then fished it out themselves.

“It was a conscious decision to terminate flight,” Smith said.

Smith said officials are confident that problem was caused by the gear that helps the Fire Scout as it comes into land, and not connected to another crash April 6, in Afghanistan. That one remains unsolved, he said, and until the investigation yields more information, the Navy won’t know exactly what happened. In the meantime, the rest of the service’s Fire Scouts are not flying unless commanders see a pressing operational need to do so.

That means the Simpson, which sailed with two Fire Scouts and no human-flown MH-60 Seahawks, has no air asset for the time being. The troops in Afghanistan who’ve been using the video captured by the Fire Scouts can’t. And depending on how long the … ground-stop, shall we say? … lasts, it could also inconvenience another frigate, the USS Klakring, which is gearing up to deploy this summer with four Fire Scouts and no Seahawks.

In true Navy fashion, however, Smith and industry officials remain bullish about the future of the program. Today’s version of the helo, the MQ-8B, is a centerpiece of the littoral combat ships’ projected mission capabilities, and planners are agog over the possibilities. (Imagine a “hunter-killer” group of Fire Scouts equipped with sonar and torpedoes that could work together hunting submarines at a safe distance from a Navy warship — et cetera.)

And Northrop is working on a new version of the Fire Scout, though it won’t look anything like today’s: In the MQ-8C, Northrop will transplant the brains of today’s robo-helo into a new body, the Bell 407, and remove the human trappings in its cockpit. The company needs a bigger airframe to answer the latest requirements from U.S. Africa and Central Commands: for an unmanned bird that can fly 150 nautical miles from its parent ship and loiter about eight hours, Smith said. Northrop expects to build 28 of them.

That doesn’t mean the Navy and Northrop have forgotten about the B-model, however. Smith said engineers are working on equipping today’s Fire Scouts with small missiles — BAE Systems’ Advanced Precision-Kill Weapons System — as well as a new radar for “wide-area search capability.”


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“That doesn’t mean the Navy and Northrop have forgotten about the B-model, however.”

Compare that to some of the counter-argument of sister site (brother site?) DefenseTech, where they’re mentioning the Bell 407-based Fire-X, or rather MQ-8C.

Strange that a completely new airframe design only begats a simple B-model to C-model designator change.
The things we do to get around procurement contracts for new toys.…

Why make a knew one when we still haven’t figured out the problems with the one that was already in service.

They have enough problems with Current UAVs how about fixing them before buying more????

The Unmanned Aerial SYSTEM is not just limited to the physical airframe. They’re still using the same control stations, communications suite, and (mostly the same) software.

Remember the DASH or as it was known the CRASH.

I don’t really buy that argument:
a Burke destroyer has a lot of similar systems to the remaining Tico cruisers: Aegis combat suite, SPY array radars, Mk 41 VLS, LM2500 turbines,… a veritable suite of systems, sensors, and weapons that have become well-enough understood from the Tico era to be incorporated into the Burke destroyers quite successfully.
But no one in their right mind would re-label the DDG 51 class instead as “CG” designated follow-ons of the Ticos…

It’s all smoke-and-mirrors marketing and sales pitches to get around the fact that a new airframe design generally gets an entirely new contract.
Otherwise, Boeing could’ve just converted production over to 757– or 767-based tankers over a couple decades ago and just called them KC-135 –W, –X, –Y, –Z…

A Bell 407 airframe is NOT a Schweizer anything.
It’d have been comparable to numbering the Abrams tank as an M60E9 or whatever rather than M1.
Perhaps the F-22 should’ve just been called F-15X instead?
And do we help the Navy’s self esteem by letting them designate the LCS hulls with DDG numbers?

Traditional manned aircraft revolve around the physical aircraft itself when it comes to operating them. Hence series designators (A, B, C, D, etc.) revolving around the physical airframe. But UAS revolve around the system, not the physical airframe. This is the reason why the FAA refer to them as UAS and the Air Force recently started referring to them as RPS (with the aircraft themselves being RPV or RPA), to highlight the system as a whole, not the aircraft. It should be noted that with the “remotely piloted” label the Air Force had additionally wanted to highlight the fact that there is a human operator; there were various instances of protests at UAS airbases in which the demonstrators were ignorantly protesting sending entirely autonomous robots to war, not knowing about the human operators that remotely pilot them.

With the Fire Scout system, the mission is the same, the avionics, links, comm systems, and 95% of the software is the same. It’s just the airframe itself being changed. On top of that, they’re using a COTS aircraft instead of developing a new one.

Do you know much about avionics?
It takes considerably more (quantity, and capability of components) advanced hardware and software to operate a complete aircraft the complexity of a Bell 407 when compared to that Schweizer barely half its size.
Yes, a 407 may have many of the systems of the –8B, but it also has, because it needs, many more.
Airframes aren’t just simply plug-and-play like a lot of COTS PC components.
Changing the last letter of its designator doesn’t make it so.

According to the included link in the article, the switch to the Bell 407 increases endurance from 6 hours to 14 hours. Attempting to make the Schweizer airframe capable of that would arguably be more expensive and time consuming: you’d need to enlarge the airframe for added fuel capacity and install a larger engine and main rotor to accommodate the larger airframe. This would push the Schweizer’s size closer to the Bell 407, and mandate the necessity of much of the same quantity and capability of avionics hardware as you state is needed. Cost versus capability realized, the Bell 407 most likely came out on top.

And mind you, it wasn’t be clicking the “Thumbs down” on your posts.


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