The Navy declared initial operational capability (IOC) for the MQ-8C Fire Scout unmanned helicopter on June 28, the service said on Monday.

The Fire Scout is built by Northrop Grumman [NOC] using the Bell [TXT] 407 airframe and is built at the Bell Mirabel, Quebec plant with final assembly and kitting conducted in the U.S. The MQ-8C is a larger and longer-endurance variant of the MQ-8B vehicle that can operate up to 12 hours on station depending on payload.

An MQ-8C Fire Scout unmanned helicopter conducts underway operations with an MH-60S Seahawk helicopter and the littoral combat ship USS Coronado (LCS-4) in late June 2018. (Photo: U.S. Navy)

The Navy intends to deploy the MQ-8C with Littoral Combat Ships (LCSs) for reconnaissance, situational awareness, and precision targeting support. Fire Scout will complement the MH-60 manned helicopter by extending the range and endurance of ship-based operations.

“This milestone is a culmination of several years of hard work and dedication from our joint government and industry team. We are excited to get this enhanced capability out to the fleet,” Capt. Eric Soderberg, Fire Scout program manager, said in a statement.

The Navy finished the first comprehensive operational test of the MQ-8C in 2018, in which the aircraft performed mission scenarios aboard the Independence-variant USS Coronado (LCS-4) off the coast of southern California (Defense Daily, July 9, 2018).

The service first started testing the Fire Scout MQ-8C aboard the USS Montgomery (LCS-8) in 2017, which included the first flight off an LCS to verify the aircraft can safely operate on the ship (Defense Daily, April 13, 2017).

The Navy said the aircraft has flown over 1,500 hours with over 700 sorties thus far. In the following years, Northrop Grumman is set to continue aircraft production up to a total of 38 aircraft.

The MQ-8C is scheduled to deploy with the LCSs in fiscal year 2021 while the older MQ-8B conducts operations aboard LCSs in the 5th and 7th Fleets, the Navy said.