By Geoff Fein

The Navy and Northrop Grumman [NOC] demonstrated earlier this month the ability to hand-off a Fire Scout vertical take-off unmanned aerial vehicle (VTUAV) from a shore-based ground station to shipboard control aboard the USS McInerney (FFG-8), according to a company official.

Additionally, Northrop Grumman was able to significantly expand wind envelopes for operations on McInerney, John VanBrabant, manager, business development, Fire Scout, told Defense Daily in a recent interview.

"Unfortunately, near the end of the week, the weather closed in and the wind got above limits. We completed 90 percent of our objectives but didn’t get credit because we were unable to do the landings," he added.

VanBrabant added that because of the importance of the tests, the Navy dedicated an additional at-sea period on April 20.

"[They] plan to fly off the McInerney for four days, finish the rest of the objective of the first at-sea period," he said. "I think then [the Navy will] begin to eat [away] at requirements for the second at-sea period so they can get ahead."

That second, and final, at-sea test period for Fire Scout is set to begin on May 8, VanBrabant noted. "That will come shortly after this extra at-sea period in April."

Following the May tests, Fire Scout will go into operational evaluation, he added.

Fire Scout will be handed over to the Navy and the service will run it through their evaluation. After that is completed, then the Navy will prepare two aircraft and deploy them on the McInerney this fall, VanBrabant said.

The McInerney is scheduled to deploy to United States Southern Command, he added.

In the mean time, Northrop Grumman is continuing work on evaluating payloads for Fire Scout.

Among those systems are the Army’s Airborne Standoff Minefield Detection System (ASTAMIDS) and additional 2.75-inch projectiles for the Navy, VanBrabant said.

"We are also helping the Navy by using our aircraft out at Yuma to do envelope expansion work for them. So we are helping them out to get through their workload with our aircraft," he said. "We are looking at the potential of doing some sort of weapon demo. We did one back in 2005 in Yuma…we fired 2.75-inch rockets. That was successful. [It demonstrated that] you can command and control from the ground."

VanBrabant said there is interest is taking a precision weapon, whether it’s a guided 2.75-inch or the company’s Viper Strike, which is being used in theater on the Army’s Hunter UAV.

The Navy is working on a small missile called Spike, VanBrabant said. "They may like to do something with that."

"We will do something in the fall with our aircraft. We just have to figure out what’s in the best interest for the Navy and Army," he added.