MQ-8 Fire Scout VTUAV Program: By Land or By Sea
Changes to the program mean the latest FY 2014 order may be the last; GAO report; Budgets FY 2013 – 2019.
April 2/14: FY14 order. Northrop Grumman Systems Corp., San Diego, CA, is being awarded a $43.8 million cost-plus-incentive-fee, firm-fixed-price contract modification for 5 MQ-8C VTUAV and 1 ground control station. Unless the line is restarted after FY 2020 begins, this is the last MQ-8C order. Including development and demonstration vehicles, NGC says they have been contracted for 19 MQ-8Cs.
All funds are committed immediately, using FY 2013 and 2014 US Navy aircraft budgets. Work will be performed in Dallas, TX (32%); Ozark, AL (27%); Rancho Bernardo, CA (25%); Moss Point, MS (15%); and Point Mugu, CA (1%), and is expected to be complete in December 2015. US NAVAIR in Patuxent River, MD manages the contract (N00019-12-C-0059). Sources: Pentagon, NGC, “Northrop Grumman to Build Five More MQ-8C Fire Scouts for the U.S. Navy”.
March 31/14: GAO Report. The US GAO tables its “Assessments of Selected Weapon Programs“. Which is actually a review for 2013, plus time to compile and publish. With respect to the Fire Scout:
“The engineering design of the MQ-8C is complete as it is based on the MQ-8B design, which appeared to be stable before halting production. The program completed operational test and evaluation of MQ-8B in December 2013 and a Quick Reaction Assessment of MQ-8C will be completed in the fourth quarter of fiscal year 2014. The program plans to conduct an acquisition strategy review in the first quarter of fiscal year 2014 that assesses overall program health, including production readiness.
….a Quick Reaction Assessment is planned for MQ-8C 3 to 4 months prior to ship deployment, which is expected to be in the first quarter of fiscal year 2015. The program is planning to test the MQ-8C at-sea in 2014 on the DDG-109 and on the Littoral Combat Ship in 2015.”
March 4-11/14: Budgets. The US military slowly files its budget documents, detailing planned spending from FY 2014 – 2019. The MQ-8 sees a cut in buys, and in the program. While the GAO still publishes the program goal as 175, this has changed to a maximum of 119 total MQ-8Bs (23) and MQ-8Cs (96), with only 17 MQ-8Cs bought until FY 2019:
“The Navy has truncated MQ-8B procurement with the last LRIP buy in FY11. 21 of the 23 LRIP aircraft (90%) have been delivered. Once delivery is complete, the 23 aircraft will support 8 Fire Scout systems. MQ-8B airframes will continue to support maritime based ISR from FFGs, support LCS DT/OT events and LCS deployments. MQ-8B airframes will sunset through attrition…. Forty-Eight (48) systems are planned to utilize the MQ-8C air vehicle (96 air vehicles), for a total of 119 air vehicles which includes Primary Inventory, backup inventory and attrition aircraft.
….The Navy will use the MQ-8[B] system from FFGs to provide up to 1/2 orbit of support to SOF until [MQ-8Cs] are available and LCS become available through the Global Force Management Process.”
Despite the goal of 96 MQ-8Cs, FY 2015-2019 buys no VTUAVs, just ancillary equipment which includes GCS, UCARs, special payloads, shipboard TCDL [datalink] systems, and various forms of support. That means the last MQ-8C orders take place in FY 2014, and orders must wait until FY 2020 or later. Statements that key LCS systems like COBRA may move to the MH-60S fleet suggest that the MQ-8C line may not be restarted, since a stalled production line attracts little political support in times of austerity.
A helicopter UAV is very handy for naval ships, and for armies who can’t always depend on runways. The USA’s RQ/MQ-8 Fire Scout Unmanned Aerial Vehicle has blazed a trail of firsts in this area, but its history is best described as “colorful.” The program was begun by the US Navy, canceled, adopted by the US Army, revived by the Navy, then canceled by the Army. Leaving it back in the hands of the US Navy. Though the Army is thinking about joining again, and the base platform is changing.
The question is, can the MQ-8 leverage its size, first-mover contract opportunity, and “good enough” performance into a secure future with the US Navy – and beyond? DID describes these new VTUAV platforms, clarifies the program’s structure and colorful history, lists all related contracts and events, and offers related research materials.
MQ-8: The Platform
MQ-8B Fire Scout
MQ-8C: Is Bigger Better?
MQ-8: The Program
MQ-8: Past and Future
Fire Scout Contracts & Key Events
FY 2005 – 2006
FY 2000 – 2004
Additional Readings & Sources
Background: Fire Scout
News & Views
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