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Thursday, May 1, 2008

Program Insider: Fire Scout Seeks New Radar, New Customers

Northrop Grumman is searching for a new radar for its MQ-8B Fire Scout program, in hopes that new customers will follow.

The company plans to build its own unmanned test aircraft to try out new sensor packages on the unmanned aerial vehicle, a modified version of Schweizer’s Model 333 turbine helicopter. Later this year, The company-owned "white tail" will test the Telephonics RDR-1700B maritime surveillance and imaging radar, which is already in widespread use.

Demonstrations will be closely watched by the U.S. sea services. Coast Guard officials have said they’d like to use Fire Scout as part of their Deepwater modernization plan, but it needs to have an integrated radar first. Meanwhile the U.S. Navy plans its own Fire Scout radar test program in 2009, although it hasn’t yet picked which radar to will use.

Northrop Grumman says its test program will help Fire Scout get a head start on its new requirements, while also showcasing the unmanned helicopter’s versatility. "The radar demonstration is vitally important," Fire Scout Business Manager Mike Fuqua told Rotor & Wing. He said radar is a baseline requirement for many of the Fire Scout’s potential foreign customers. So far, 14 countries have requested information on the aircraft, including Japan, Korea, the United Arab Emirates, India, France and Germany. "We expect that most will await the results of the U.S. Navy’s operational evaluation, coming up next year, before they make any sort of determination," Fuqua said.

The U.S. Navy plans to field the Fire Scout in late 2009, according to the current schedule. The aircraft will initially have electro-optical and infrared sensors, as well as mine detection capabilities; radar is planned for around 2011. The U.S. Army also has selected Fire Scout as part of its Future Combat System modernization program. — Rebecca Christie

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