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Northrop Grumman deploys next-gen autonomous helicopter

The prime’s ship-based autonomous helicopter has officially been deployed with the US Navy.

The prime’s ship-based autonomous helicopter has officially been deployed with the US Navy.

Northrop Grumman’s MQ-8C Fire Scout has been deployed with the US Navy’s Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron 22, Detachment 5 (HSC-22 DET 5) aboard USS Milwaukee (LCS-5).


The autonomous helicopter is designed to provide greater organic intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance and targeting (ISR&T) capabilities for the military, leveraging increased speed, endurance and payload capacity.

The Fire Scout is built to deliver more than 10 hours of endurance over a range of approximately 1,000 nautical miles, supporting a number of mission sets, including real-time over-the-horizon targeting.

When deployed alongside crewed aircraft, the system enables commanders to more efficiently employ their assets.

“This is a significant milestone in the MQ-8C Fire Scout program,” Captain Eric Soderberg of the US Navy said.

“The transition from the MQ-8B to the MQ-8C Fire Scout has brought improved sensors and more than doubles the on-station endurance.


“Advances in Fire Scout’s capabilities further our successful integration of unmanned platforms at sea and the Navy and Marine Corps unmanned campaign plan.”

Lance Eischeid, director, Fire Scout program, Northrop Grumman noted the importance of collaboration with the US Navy to develop the autonomous capability.

“Our partnership with the US Navy has been critical in developing Fire Scout’s multi-mission autonomous capabilities, which provide greater situational awareness to the joint force,” Eischeid said.

“With the ability to operate from a range of surface ships, MQ-8C Fire Scout is a powerful platform that allows the US Navy to increase the detection and tracking of targets through its onboard sensors and integration with manned assets.”

MQ-8C Fire Scout leverages a Bell 407 commercial aircraft for its airframe, in a bid to improve affordability by reducing life cycle costs, including initial development, supply chain and flight hour reliability.

The system is also equipped with a Leonardo AN/ZPY-8 (Osprey) radar, enabling it to detect and automatically track contacts at long ranges and in challenging conditions.

The autonomous aircraft was designed in San Diego, California, and Fort Worth, Texas, by a joint Northrop Grumman/Bell team and manufactured in Ozark, Alabama, and Moss Point, Mississippi.

The MQ-8C achieved initial operational capability in June 2019 and is expected to begin replacing the MQ-8B variant on upcoming deployments.

[Related: Northrop Grumman demonstrates cross-domain tech integration]

Northrop Grumman deploys next-gen autonomous helicopter
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