The US Navy (USN) has declared initial operating capability (IOC) for the Northrop Grumman MQ-8C Fire Scout unmanned aircraft system (UAS), the service announced on 8 July.
The milestone, which was reached on 28 June, comes about six years after flight trials were commenced in mid-2013 and clears the way for fleet operations and training for the unmanned sensor platform.
With IOC now declared, the MQ-8C will soon join its smaller MQ-8B Fire Scout-stablemate aboard the USN's Littoral Combat Ship (LCS)-class vessels. The first such MQ-8C deployment is set for fiscal year 2021.
Developed to provide an enhanced capability compared with the smaller MQ-8B that is based on the Schweizer Aircraft 330 helicopter, the Bell 407-based MQ-8C features improved sensors, has a range of about 150 n miles, endurance of 12 hours, and a payload capacity of more than 317 kg.
The USN's total planned Fire Scout inventory is 30 Schweizer Aircraft 330-based MQ-8Bs and 38 MQ-8Cs. These 68 air vehicles will include 59 that are production funded, and nine that are research, development, test, and evaluation funded.
As noted by the USN, the MQ-8C has flown more than 1,500 hours with in excess of 700 sorties to date. Over the next few years, Northrop Grumman will continue MQ-8C production deliveries to the Navy to complete a total of 38 aircraft.
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