According to CDRE James Borghardt US, deputy program manager for the MQ- 8C Fire Scout unmanned helicopter, several discussions have taken place between the US Navy and the RAN on this capability, including its potential use in the Sea5000 Future Frigate program.
He said the USN has now logged 355 flight hours with the Fire Scout, about 20 of them at sea. All the flights were autonomous although with a man in the loop.
Based on the Bell 407 helicopter, the NQ-8C is a larger and more capable version of the Schweizer aircraft-based MQ-8B Fire Scout.
CDRE Borghardt said the USN had now taken delivery of two test MQ-8C which were being used extensively, and two production aircraft. A total of 19 aircraft were due to be delivered before the end of 2015 and an additional five would be ordered and delivered before the end of 2016
The baseline anti-surface warfare package comprised an EO/IR laser designator pod and also included the Automatic Information Service shipping identification system.
Initial Operating Capability (IOC) was scheduled for 2018 while IOC for a mine countermeasures package capable of detecting both surface and subsurface mines would be 2020.
Weaponising the MQ-8C was a future possibility, and tests had already taken place with the BAE Systems Advanced Precision K ill Weapon System, which turns a standard unguided 2.75-inch rocket into a precision laser-guided weapon.
This article first appeared in Australian Defence Magazine VOL.23 No.4, April 2015