The US Navy says it will delay a decision on what weapons to integrate with the Northrop Grumman MQ-8C Fire Scout vertical take-off unmanned aerial system pending a determination of what munitions its two classes of Littoral Combat Ships (LCS) will carry.
The MQ-8C which is based on the manned Bell 407 helicopter will replace the smaller Schweitzer 333-based MQ-8B aboard the LCS fleet from later this year
Speaking at the Navy League Sea Air Space conference in Washington DC, the US Navy’s head of PMA-266 Capt Jeff Dodge said the weapons upgrade would not occur before 2023. “That development is in hiatus right now as we deal with ship integration issues and the limited magazine space that we have in trying to find out what the weapons mix should be” on the LCS.
The favoured air-to-surface weapon for Fire Scout is BAE’s 2.75 advanced precision kill weapon system (APKWS) precision rocket system which has already been integrated with the MQ-8B but is yet to be employed as an embarked capability.
“One of the issues with advanced precision kill weapon system is, because it’s based on an unguided rocket it’s designed to be built up in an armoury, and the LCS armoury doesn’t have the space to do the build-up,” Capt Dodge explained.
“We had to go with three tube launchers for the MQ-8B because of its limited payload,” he added, but, “we think we can carry up to seven tube launcher (on the MQ-8C) which is more standard across DoD.”
The MQ-8C is likely to be a leading contender for the Royal Australian Navy’s Project SEA 129 Phase 5 Stage 2 requirement for an unmanned system to be embarked on its new SEA 5000 frigates from late next decade.