San Diego CA (SPX) Dec 15, 2010
In preparation for deployment early next year, Northrop Grumman and the U.S. Navy have verified that the MQ-8B Fire Scout vertical unmanned aircraft system is functionally compatible with communications systems on board the USS Halyburton (FFG-40).
This process, known as integration verification, cleared the way for Fire Scout to conduct bluewater - unrestricted - operations from the Halyburton.
Performed Nov. 4-8 in the western Atlantic Ocean, integration verification included functional checks on the ship, verification that Fire Scout payloads worked properly, and completion of a long-duration flight at distance from the ship.
A team of Northrop Grumman engineers and operators on board the ship helped re-familiarize Navy operators with Fire Scout's control systems.
Northrop Grumman is the Navy's Fire Scout prime contractor.
"These verification flights will support the Navy's decision to deploy the Fire Scout system for continued operational use," said George Vardoulakis, vice president for tactical unmanned systems for Northrop Grumman's Aerospace Systems sector.
"We demonstrated that the Fire Scout system installed on the Halyburton was functioning properly, and that this same system could be integrated into other Navy frigates."
Fire Scout performed well during integration verification with no vehicle or operator delays, Vardoulakis said.
In April 2010, Fire Scout concluded a military utility assessment on board the USS McInerney (FFG-8), a frigate similar to the Halyburton. While the Navy's new Littoral Combat Ships are Fire Scout's intended home, the system is being integrated with other ships to expand its utility.
"Communications using Fire Scout's tactical common data link and Halyburton's shipboard systems were outstanding," said James Porter, Northrop Grumman Fire Scout deputy program manager. "These results provided a strong link between operators and the vehicle. We also received clear video imagery from the system's electro-optical sensor payload."
Additional verifications included a total of 10 approach landings from the left and right sides of the ship. A flight of more than four hours was conducted at 75 nautical miles to simulate a normal Fire Scout mission.
"These final preparations are part of a deployment planned for early next year when the Halyburton deploys," said Vardoulakis. "The feedback we gain from warfighters in experiences using Fire Scout from the ship will really help us make future system enhancements."
Vardoulakis also explained that using Fire Scout's ship-based intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities in an operational environment proves the system's maturity as a much-needed extension for gathering crucial information during peacekeeping or wartime missions.
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