The Navy intends to release a request for proposals (RFP) by Aug. 31 for a maritime search radar for the MQ-8C Fire Scout unmanned aerial system, according to a solicitation from Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR).

“We are currently incorporating comments from the industry day held on July 29 into the final RFP, which will be released soon,” Capt. Jeff Dodge, the service’s Fire Scout program manager told Defense Daily in a statement. “Our goal with the radar is to dramatically increase maritime search, detection and localization capability of the MQ-8C and extend the area of influence for LCS or other suitably equipped air-capable ships.”

The service plans to buy 40 systems—one for every air vehicle. A contract is slated to be awarded in fiscal year 2016, and the radars could be fielded as early as 2019, a NAVAIR spokeswoman said.

MQ-8C Fire Scout demonstrates a long range, long endurance flight part of a capability-based test at Naval Base Ventura County, Point Mugu. (Photo by Northrop Grumman)
MQ-8C Fire Scout demonstrates a long range, long endurance flight part of a capability-based test at Naval Base Ventura County, Point Mugu. (Photo by Northrop Grumman)

The service in July released a request for information that contained preliminary requirements for the system.

The radar’s operational capabilities could include: sea surface search, synthetic aperture radar (SAR), inverse synthetic aperture radar (ISAR) and weather modes. The radar must be equipped with an antenna or array with a minimum of 180 degree field of regard. The ability to detect moving ground targets and periscopes is also desirable, the solicitation said.

The MQ-8C combines the airframe of a commercial Bell 407 helicopter with an unmanned systems architecture developed by Northrop Grumman [NOC], the platform’s prime contractor. The service intends to buy 40 air vehicles, which will provide intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance as well as targeting support.

The first operational MQ-8C was delivered to the Navy last year, and the system will be deployed on Littoral Combat Ships. A smaller version, the MQ-8B, is already in use on frigates and on the USS Fort Worth (LCS-3), but the “Charlie” variant has longer endurance can carry heavier payloads.

The MQ-8C recently flew its longest ever flight—11 hours with more than an hour’s worth of fuel still remaining—during endurance trials conducted at Naval Base Ventura County in Point Mugu ,Calif., the company said Aug. 25. The demonstration, which was conducted by the Navy with help from Northrop Grumman, was meant to validate the service’s concept of operations and test the drone’s performance. 

George Vardoulakis, the company’s vice president of medium tactical range systems, indicated that Northrop Grumman wants to boost the Fire Scout’s endurance even further.

“Today’s MQ-8C Fire Scout performance matches our model exactly. With adjustments, our production aircraft will have 12 hours of total endurance on a standard day,” he said in a statement. “This prolonged endurance gives the Navy’s commanders a tremendous operational advantage.”

Conducting the endurance test helps the Navy better understand the system and make adjustments to operational procedures, Dodge said.

The Charlie-variant has logged more than 513 flight hours and 353 sorties. It’s slated to begin an operational assessment later this year, the news release said. Initial operational capability is scheduled for late 2016 (Defense Daily, April 14).