The US Navy has awarded Northrop Grumman a US$55m (A$87m) contract for the production of five MQ-8C Fire Scout vertical takeoff unmanned aerial systems (VTUAS).
The contract takes the total number of MQ-8Cs ordered by the US Navy to 24 out of a total program of record of 96 systems. The US Navy is integrating the Fire Scouts with its Lockheed Martin Freedom and Austal Independence class littoral combat ships (LCS), and plans to operate them in conjunction with manned MH-60R/S Seahawks.
The MQ-8C is an unmanned development of the manned civilian Bell 407 single-engined helicopter, and builds upon the success of the much smaller MQ-8B which was an unmanned variant of the two-seat Schweizer 333 helicopter. The MQ-8C has a 10 hour endurance, has a tactical datalink which enables real-time command and control, and can carry optical, radar and electronic sensors, an electronic warfare payload, or the APKWS anti-surface missile.
Northrop Grumman has positioned the MQ-8C as a possible solution for the ADF’s Project SEA 129 Phase 6, the requirements for which are expected to firm up as the RAN gains UAS experience through its newly-commissioned 822X Squadron, and as the SEA 5000 Hunter class frigate program matures.