Unit Costs Surge for MQ-8 Fire Scout Drone

Unit Costs Surge for MQ-8 Fire Scout Drone

The Navy’s drone helicopter, the Air Force’s precision-landing system and the Army’s digital radio for ground troops are among the Pentagon’s weapons programs whose unit costs surged in the past year.

The Navy’s MQ-8 Fire Scout unmanned chopper developed by Northrop Grumman Corp. and the Air Force’s Joint Precision Approach and Landing System developed by Raytheon Co. had “critical” cost overruns of more than 50 percent over original projections, according to a summary of the Defense Department’s latest Selected Acquisition Reports.

The size of the increases triggered a law requiring congressional notification and may put the programs at risk of cancellation. Frank Kendall, the Pentagon’s top weapons buyer, will make a decision whether to re-certify the acquisition efforts “no later than June 17, 2014, as required by law,” according to the document released Thursday.


The Navy has already nixed plans to buy 17 more Fire Scouts over the next five years as part of its budget request for fiscal 2015, which begins Oct. 1. The move left the future of the program unclear.

Warren Comer, a spokesman for Falls Church, Va.-based Northrop, said Fire Scout has proven to be “highly successful” program. The company since 2011 has made three significant upgrades to the platform, including endurance, weapons and radar enhancements to support various types of missions, he said.

“These upgrades, originally contracted as separate rapid deployment efforts, are now being incorporated into the baseline program of record,” Comer said in an e-mail. “This allows the Fire Scout system to spend greater time supporting missions with fewer aircraft.”

In other acquisition efforts, the Navy’s E-3 Sentry Airborne Warning and Control System Block 40/45 Upgrade developed by Boeing Co. and the Army’s Joint Tactical Radio System’s Handheld, Manpack and Small Form Fit program developed by General Dynamics Corp. had “significant” overruns, according to the report.

The law, known as Nunn-McCurdy, was enacted in 1982 to give lawmakers a better sense of problems with weapons procurement, though rarely is the reporting process used to actually cancel programs.

The MQ-8 Fire Scout is an unmanned helicopter developed under the Vertical Takeoff and Landing Tactical Unmanned Aerial Vehicle program, or VTUAV. It’s designed to fly from warships and provide troops with surveillance and fire support.

The Navy plans to buy a total of 126 of the aircraft, including seven prototypes and 119 production models, for an overall cost of $3.47 billion – a 24-percent increase from the original estimate of $2.79 billion, according to the Pentagon report. The price tag increased despite a planned reduction in aircraft, from 177 to 126, or 51 vehicles.

The increase in unit cost was “due to an increased requirement for warfighter capabilities of the system and an overall reduction in the total air vehicle quantities being procured,” from 177 to 126, or 51 aircraft, the document states. Specific unit cost figures weren’t given, but based on the figures above, they increased more than 70 percent, from about $15.7 million per aircraft to about $27.5 million per aircraft.

In its fiscal 2015 budget request, the Navy “made a decision to streamline the maritime Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance portfolio by combining previously developed MQ-8 Fire Scout rapid deployment capabilities (endurance upgrade, radar, and weapons) into the Program of Record (POR),” Jamie Cosgrove, a Navy spokeswoman, said in an e-mail. “The Department determined that transitioning these capabilities was a cost-effective investment to support LCS missions,” she said, referring to the Littoral Combat Ship.

The Navy stopped production of the MQ-8B after buying 30 of the aircraft with the Schweizer 333 airframe, according to a separate Pentagon test report from earlier this year. The service wants to switch to the Bell 407 airframe for the MQ-8C, another version of the drone based in part on requirements from U.S. Special Operations Command.

While the service has successfully integrated the Advanced Precision Weapon Kill System, which converts unguided Hydra rockets into precision-guided missiles, on the Fire Scout, “additional sea-based testing is required before the Navy can field a sea-based, weaponized unmanned aerial system,” the test report states.

With more than 40 Fire Scouts in the inventory or on order, the Navy has indicated it has enough of the aircraft to support a reduced fleet of Littoral Combat Ships. Due in part to automatic budget cuts known as sequestration, the service cut the number of the surface vessels it planned to buy to 32 from 52.

(Story was updated to correct overall cost increase, and add unit cost figures and quotes from Navy spokeswoman beginning in the 10th paragraph.)

Associate Editor Brendan McGarry can be reached at brendan.mcgarry@monster.com.

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Hopefully this doesn’t affect the testing of MQ-8C.

What do you suppose is the purpose of the platform it’s landing on in the picture?

Since the MQ-8 is on skids, the platform is probably there to help move it around on deck.

Don’t be too alarmed by this issue. If you increase requirements and reduce planned quantities, then you should expect the per unit cost (sometimes called the Fly-Away cost) to go up. It won’t be the senior leaders who will find the savings. It will be the worker bees who find ways of buying items cheaper or saving on development costs. Sadly the taxpayer does not see the savings since it is generally the contractor, not the government, who strives to cut costs.

The Navy needs more on their budget so lets understand it and give itso it can fly these and guard our oil ships from terrorist,and if we see a little boat as treath to oil routes, no fear shoot and sink the pirates!!

MQ-8C is a close cousin to the Bell 407. Bell 407 was developed from the Bell 206. Bell 206 was a close cousin to the OH-58 Kiowa. When they had more budget to throw around, OH-58 was to be replaced with the now cancelled ARH. Developments from the ARH provided genesis for the Bell 427, significantly improved from the Bell 407. Yet MQ-8C is not being developed from the new improved Bell 427, rather is being developed from the Bell 407.

For the OH-58F block 2, they were looking at upgrading the OH-58 to use the tailrotor from the Bell 427, the transmission from the Bell 407 and the 1021 shp Honeywell HTS900 turboshaft engine (powerpack that was developed for the ARH-70). If they buy MQ-8C (Bell 407), I suspect it won’t be long before they decide MQ-8C needs the more powerful engine from the ARH and the tailrotor from the Bell 427.

JohnnyRanger… The circular item on that platform is a harpoon landing grid, for harpoon assisted recovery of the unmanned helicopter.

At the link below, scroll down to the table at the bottom of sheet two for information on DCNS 18-UAV.
http://​en​.dcnsgroup​.com/​w​p​-​c​o​n​t​e​n​t​/​u​p​l​o​a​d​s​/​2​0​1​0/1

The MQ-8B as pictured have and are now being deployed on Perry class frigates.

As I recall, this Navy/Marine Corps Fire Scout program started as, guess what? A “pork project” or Congressional add. Now, thanks to politics, it’s a baseline program. Many pork projects make it into the baseline budget.

I think its a nice looking done. for ship to ship purposes I don’t know why they just want light hydra rockets to arm it a Hellfire may be a better answer. Think its a cute drone and for scouting for enemy ships it has a place in the Navy.

Hydra-70

MK66 MOD 4 Motor
Length: 41.7 inches (106.0 cm)
Weight: 13.6 pounds (6.2 kg)
Diameter: 2.75 inches (70mm)
Average thrust (77°F/25°C) .… .… … 1,415 pounds (629 daN)
Total impulse (77°F/25°C) .… .… .… 1,515 pounds/second (674 daNs)
Time of burning (77°F/25°C) .… .… . .1.07 seconds

A few of the various warheads:

M255A1 flechette
Length: 26.9 inches (68.3 cm)
Weight: 14.0 pounds (6.4 kg)

M257/M278 illuminating flare
Length: 29.1 inches (73.9 cm)
Weight: 11.0 pounds (5.0 kg)

M278 infrared flare
Length: 29.1 inches (73.9 cm)
Weight: 11.0 pounds (5.0 kg)

M229 high explosive (17 pound)
Length (with fuze): 26.0 inches (66 cm)
Weight: 17.0 pounds (7.7 kg)

M151 high explosive (10 pound)
Length (with fuze): 16.2 inches (41.2 cm)
Weight: 9.3 pounds (4.2 kg)

M156 (WP)
Length (with fuze): 16.2 inches (41.2 cm)
Weight: 9.65 pounds (4.38 kg)

I have zero knowledge of how the Navy is looking to employ the MQ-8, but the traditional role of the scout is to detect the enemy, not to engage them decisively. I would guess that the MQ-8 isn’t expected to survive against an enemy with air defenses. Carryin that further, it would see most use in asymmetric environments, which means against small craft. A Hellfire would probably be overkill in that scenario; a DAGR or other 70mm projectile would be perfect.
Again… I claim zero expertise here. Maybe it’s got a secret compartment full of Harpoons and death rays.

Navy use to have a drone helo back in the 60s, and it worked well with the technology available at the time QH%) DASH. Just make them again!

That’s QH50, sorry for the fat fingers.

Here ya go: http://​www​.youtube​.com/​w​a​t​c​h​?​v​=​1​6​D​2​1​1​0​1​0Es

We built and delivered 800 QH-50 drones to the Navy from 1959 to 1972.……left ship and flew another 34 years at China Lake and White Sands Missile Range.….we did everything.….drop torpedoes, target spot over Vietnam, pull downed-pilots from the beach, lay down smoke, flew from Dong Ho with the USMC, and after 400 aircraft lost, not one injury or death on our side — and that’s the problem. There is no grave marker at Arlington for the QH-50 DASH; no sad widows who will hear taps played.…no Glory . Just old DASH controllers now wondering why the Navy dropped a program that Arleigh Burke believed in so fiercely.
Can you imagine what that platform could do today with just an avionics upgrade?
Fire Scout…what a waste of money, time and talent.…..and the enemy grows stronger while this farce is played out.
We’re still here but getting gray. http://​WWW​.GyrodyneHelicopters​.com

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