Just weeks after the Navy grounded its fleet of MQ-8B Fire Scout unmanned spy copters as a precautionary step, it announced proposed expenditure of $250 million to purchase even more drone copters. Aerospace major Northrop Grumman will provide the Navy with six upgraded MQ-8C Fire Scout copters and test two more. These will be the next-generation Fire Scout unmanned helicopter using the Bell 407 airframe. The new variant provides greater range, endurance and payload capacity to ship commander’s intelligence-gathering efforts, according to Northrop Grumman.
The single vendor contract comes two weeks after the Navy grounded the spy helicopters in the wake of two operational mishaps. In one case, a Fire Scout was unable to land on the carrier due to a malfunction following a routine surveillance mission. Another crashed during an operational mission in Northern Afghanistan. While investigations are yet incomplete, an audit by the Pentagon revealed that in the course of the year gone by, Fire Scouts completed only 54 per cent of their missions operating from a carrier. The Navy and Northrop portrayed the new contract as a way of turning the Fire Scout program around from its recent woes.