As the Navy plans to deploy a weapon for the first time on a drone aircraft, an official said yesterday the service is open to using varied strike capabilities on the helicopter in the future.

Capt. Pat Smith, head of the Naval Air System Command’s Multi-Mission Tactical Unmanned Aircraft Systems program office, said the Navy is on track to deploy a weaponized MQ-8 Fire Scout unmanned aircraft in 18 months.

For the initial weaponization of the vertical-lift helicopter, the Navy plans to use BAE Systems’s Advanced Precision Kill Weapon System (APKWS). Also, Fire Scout maker Northrop Grumman [NOC] plans to conduct a demonstration at the end of August with Raytheon’s [RTN] Griffin missile.

The Navy chose the APKWS over the Griffin for the first deployment of a weaponized Fire Scout because the BAE weapon already had the required safety approvals, Smith said yesterday at the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International North America 2011 conference in Washington.

“So when we looked at our timeline to get to deployment within 18 months, we found that the lowest-risk approach was to go there,” he said.

In the future, though, he said the Navy would “like to become agnostic as to what weapon goes on board.”

“We’ll support anything that we can lift and carry and will be able to provide the warfighter capability,” he said.

The Navy plans for the debut of the weaponized Fire Scouts to be part of the first deployment of the new Littoral Combat Ships (LCS). Smith said he does not have “hard dates” for the LCS deployments.

Smith said he is proud that the Fire Scout will be the Navy’s first weaponized unmanned-aerial vehicle.