Last summer, we reported how the US Navy completed the first comprehensive Initial Operational Test and Evaluation (IOTE) of the Northrop Grumman MQ-8C Fire Scout unmanned helicopter. One year later, the Navy declared initial operational capability (IOC) for the MQ-8C, a Naval Air Systems Command press release read.
The MQ-8C is a sea-based unmanned helicopter for reconnaissance, aerial fire support and precision targeting missions.
"This milestone is a culmination of several years of hard work and dedication from our joint government and industry team," said Capt Eric Soderberg, Fire Scout program manager.
"We are excited to get this enhanced capability out to the fleet."
IOC allows the new helicopter drone to begin fleet operations and training aboard the Navy's littoral combat ships in FY2021.
The MQ-8C uses the Bell 407 airframe, with the insides completely stripped out and replaced with automated systems and extra fuel tanks.
The drone has an impressive 12 hour flight time, a max payload of roughly 700 lb, and a range of 172 miles. Some internal components include a Leonardo Osprey 30 lightweight active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar that allows for a more extended field of view compared to the MQ-8B's legacy radar.
Northrop Grumman has been contracted to deliver 38 MQ-8Cs by 2021.
"Combined with the maturity of Northrop Grumman's autonomous systems architecture, Fire Scout meets customer requirements for a ship-based and land-based autonomous systems," according to Northrop Grumman.
"It also has the ability to autonomously take off and land on any aviation-capable ship and from prepared and unprepared landing zones."
Here is the first ship-based flight of the helicopter drone which occurred aboard USS Jason Dunham (DDG 109), an Arleigh Burke-class destroyer, in December 2014.
The proliferation of military robotics will dramatically increase throughout the 2020s, set to provide all branches of the military with new capabilities amid the threat of war with China and Russia.