The US Navy has commenced flight testing of the Northrop Grumman MQ-8C Fire Scout unmanned helicopter, equipped with Leonardo’s AN/ZPY-8 active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar.
Flight trials began on February 27, but the campaign was only confirmed to have started by Northrop Grumman on May 8. According to the company, “testing began with several weeks of ground [tests] prior to the first test flight and continues to progress as the [navy] and Northrop Grumman consider mission expansion opportunities for the platform.” Testing is taking place at Webster Outlying Field, near St Inigoes, Maryland.
AN/ZPY-8 is the US Navy’s designation for Leonardo’s Osprey 30 X-band AESA radar, which is a multi-mode system with a maximum detection range of 230 miles (370km). It is a lightweight module, weighing approximately 62lb (28kg) and is capable of conducting maritime surface surveillance, high-resolution wide-area ground mapping, navigation, turbulence/weather/moving target detection and search and rescue (SAR) support tasks.
Melissa Packwood, programme manager of Tactical Autonomous Systems at Northrop Grumman, said: “The AN/ZPY-8 radar significantly increases Fire Scout’s detection and tracking of targets. The ability to simultaneously employ multiple modes supports US Navy intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance [(ISR)] requirements… This increased capability enables Fire Scout to extend ranges to meet emerging requirements.”
The MQ-8C is a rotary-wing unmanned aerial system (UAS), designed to provide ISR, aerial fire and precision-targeting support for the US Navy. Its airframe is based on the Bell 407 single-engine civil utility helicopter, while it employs advanced avionics and systems that have been further developed from those used on its predecessor, the MQ-8B – which was based on the Schweizer 333 light helicopter.
As of May 8, Northrop Grumman had delivered 32 of the 38 MQ-8Cs ordered by the US Navy. The platform achieved initial operational capability (IOC) in June last year and is scheduled to undertake its first deployment in 2021. The 32 examples already delivered to the service will be retrofitted with the AN/ZPY-8 system.