By Geoff Fein

The Navy will deploy the MQ-8B Fire Scout Vertical Unmanned Aircraft System (VUAS), the first time a large, automated unmanned aerial system (UAS) has been delivered for shipboard operation by sailors, according to the service.

The Navy had been planning to first use Fire Scout from the USS McInerney (FFG-8), after successfully completing a series of landings and approaches aboard the frigate earlier this year (Defense Daily, May 6).

Those tests also demonstrated the Unmanned Common Automatic Recovery System (UCAR)

Northrop Grumman‘s [NOC] Fire Scout departed with the 4th Fleet to assist during a counter-narcotics trafficking deployment, according to the Navy. The aircraft will provide unprecedented situational awareness as the fleet employs its Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance capabilities, Capt. Tim Dunigan, Fire Scout program manager, said.

“This is a landmark event for the development of Fire Scout. Deploying the Fire Scout will allow the Navy to learn the operational strengths of the system. The McInerney will be critical in developing the tactics, techniques and procedures (TTPs) for the fleet to best exploit the war fighting capabilities of the Fire Scout system,” he added.

Developmental testing to date demonstrated the aircraft’s readiness for deployment with the McInerney, leading to an Operational Evaluation during deployment and full integration in the fleet. Fire Scout has completed more than 600 hours of flight testing, with110 take-off and landings from the frigate, the Navy said.

In August, Northrop Grumman was awarded a contract by ABS Group, a Systems Engineering Technical Assistance (SETA) contractor for the U.S. Coast Guard Research and Development Center, to conduct a maritime airborne sensor demonstration (Defense Daily, Aug. 12).

The Coast Guard has said it needs to see how a maritime airborne sensor would work on the VUAS’ before deciding whether to acquire the platforms for the National Security Cutter.

The test, scheduled to occur in fall 2009, will take place from Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Md., Webster Outlying Field, according to Northrop Grumman.

The company has also been investing its own funds to line up partner companies to “come play’ with the Fire Scout VTUAS, John VanBrabant, manager V-UAS business development, told Defense Daily earlier this year at AUVSI. The company has formed a strategy council to look at payloads for Fire Scout, he added (Defense Daily, Aug. 17).

“In early ’10 we hope to conduct a weapons demonstration,” VanBrabant said.

Northrop Grumman now wants do to guided weapon tests, he added.

The company will use its Navy variant, P-6, for testing out payload concepts, VanBrabant said. “P-7 will be dedicated to doing other things for the Army.”

A lot of folks are developing payloads, VanBrabant noted. Other ideas include using Fire Scout as a communications relay. “A wideband relay is envisioned in the future,” he added. The Navy is planning to demonstrate the Automatic Identification System (AIS) on Fire Scout some time in the future, he added.

Fire Scout will eventually make its home aboard the Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) as a key component of both the anti-submarine warfare and mine countermeasures mission packages.

Continued flight tests and OPEVAL on the McInerney will prepare the aircraft for future missions on LCS. The aircraft will be integrated on both variants of LCS. The concept for employment on the LCS is to embark a manned H-60 helicopter with the MQ-8B in support of surface warfare, mine counter measures and anti-submarine warfare missions.

The Navy does have a growth plan for future Fire Scout payloads, but for the time being, the VTUAV will carry FLIR’s [FLIR] BRITE Star II electro optical infrared sensor and Northrop Grumman’s Coastal Battlefield Reconnaissance and Analysis (COBRA) multispectral camera for mine detection, Dunigan noted in an interview earlier this spring. Fire Scout also has three Rockwell Collins [COL] ARC-210 radios that enable Fire Scout to act as a communications relay. Those are the payloads that are funded right now (Defense Daily, March 24).