The U.S. Navy has awarded Northrop Grumman Corporation a contract valued at more than $71 million to produce six additional next-generation Fire Scout unmanned helicopters. The Navy plans to purchase a total of 30 aircraft under a rapid development effort. Northrop Grumman is currently under contract to produce 14 Fire Scouts that are scheduled to begin deploying in 2014. The Fire Scout endurance upgrade, designated the MQ-8C and based on Bell Helicopter’s 407, will provide ship commanders with increased range, endurance and payload capacity over the current MQ-8B variant. Manufacturing and assembly operations of the new Fire Scout variant are well under way across the USA, with airframe modifications being made at Bell’s facility in Ozark, Ala., and final assembly being completed at Northrop Grumman’s Unmanned Systems Center in Moss Point, Miss.
Meanwhile the current variant, MQ-8B continues operations, maritime intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) operations. Last week the fleet exceeded the 8,000-flight-hour mark operating under the U.S. African Command area of responsibility, in the Red Sea, Eastern Indian Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea. Fire Scouts routinely flying 17-hour days while providing 12 hours on station ISR coverage.