Fire Scouts being sent to Afghanistan

MQ-8B Fire Scout

A Navy Fire Scout UAV system has been shipped to the Central Command operating area to support Army and coalition forces in Afghanistan, the Navy announced Thursday.

The system, under development by the Naval Air Systems Command to operate from ships, will be land-based in CENTCOM for about a year. The Fire Scouts “will provide hundreds of hours of full motion video,” NAVAIR said in a press release, in support of the Pentagon’s Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance task force.

A wide variety of UAVs have been deployed over Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere in CENTCOM at least since 2003, performing high-, medium- and low-altitude missions ranging from surveillance to strike. Most of the drones are fixed-wing, while the Fire Scout is a small helicopter able to stay aloft more than eight hours, fly at altitudes up to about 17,000 feet and travel about 115 knots.

Each Fire Scout system consists of up to three MQ-8B aircraft, at least one ground control station and other hardware.

For the CENTCOM mission, three Fire Scouts are being used along with two ground control stations. NAVAIR employees traveled with the system to perform set-up, but the system will be operated in theater by Northrop Grumman contract personnel, NAVAIR said.

Two ground control stations were loaded on an Air Force C-5 transport at Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Md., and shipped out on April 8. A smaller C-17 transport flew out the three Fire Scout vehicles on April 13.

Fire Scouts have been deployed to sea twice, first on the frigate McInerney in 2009-2010, and currently on the frigate Halyburton.

Although the system is intended for use on other ships, the Navy plans to make it a centerpiece of the mission modules under development for the littoral combat ship. Trials were carried out last November on board the first LCS, the single-hull Freedom, and tests are now being carried out aboard the multihull LCS Independence.