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RQ-8A Fire Scout
Vertical Take Off and Landing Tactical Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (VTUAV)

The RQ-8A Fire Scout system will provide the US Navy and US Marine Corps reconnaissance, situational awareness and precision targeting support. The system is designed to autonomously take off from and land on any aviation-capable ship or confined land area. It will provide coverage 110 nautical miles from its launch site using a baseline payload that includes electro-optical/infrared sensors and a laser designator.

The RQ-8A Fire Scout unmanned vertical takeoff and landing tactical system that is in low-rate initial production for the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps. The VTUAV program is funded through EMD testing in 2004, but there are no funds for production. The Navy is moving ahead to support a UCAV program and is purchasing two additional Predators, which will be controlled from aboard ships. As of February 2002 the N-78 decision to cancel production of the VTUAV was still in force. The program was expected to continue through LRIP-1 and EMD. The first flight as P-3 (Prototype-3, without data link) was planned for China Lake in mid-April 2002, and first flight as E-1 (EMD-1, with data link and payload) was planned for July 2002. In early May 2002, Northrop Grumman successfully completed the first two flights of the third Fire Scout prototype, including a completely autonomous flight. The second flight test of E-2 was planned as a roll-on, roll-off capability aboard the USS Denver in August 2002.

The Vertical Take Off and Landing Tactical Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (VTUAV) is a new start in FY00, with IOC by 4QFY03. The VTUAV System will be used afloat by Navy units and ashore by USMC units and will provide local commanders near-real time imagery and data to support Intelligence Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) requirements. The VTUAV System will replace all Pioneer UAV Systems for all tactical echelons, and add extra systems. The VTUAV will provide the ability to conduct unmanned reconnaissance operations from all ships capable of conducting helicopter operations including amphibious ships as well as cruisers and destroyers. The small footprint of the VTUAV will reduce the impact on flight deck operations compared to the Pioneer, resulting in a major paradigm shift on tactical UAV operations. Coupled with performance improvements over Pioneer, the VTUAV number of systems, availability, and reduced impact on personnel and flight deck operations will vastly expand the opportunities for UAV employment in tactical operations. Appendix C identifies amphibious ships and surface combatants that are planned to host the VTUAV and provides further discussion of installation and operations considerations.

Additionally, the VTUAV will bring a quantum improvement in payload sensor capability for naval surface fires. The VTUAV will be a force multiplier of significant value to ships equipped with Extended Range Guided Munitions (ERGMs), firing 5"/62 guns, the Advanced Gun System of DD-21, and land attack missiles. It will expand its host ship's capability across many mission areas by providing a platform that dramatically affects 'sensor-to-shooter' capabilities along with the ability to conduct real-time battle damage assessment (BDA). Operations from amphibious platforms will provide seamless integration with the types of naval aircraft already in operation on these ship classes.

A VTUAV system will consist of air vehicles, ground control stations (GCSs), modular mission payloads (MMPs), data links, remote data terminals (RDTs), launch and recovery equipment, and tactical communications equipment. The VTUAV Operational Requirements Document (ORD) specifies a system to consist of two GCSs, 4 air vehicles, 4 EO/IR laser designator MMPs, and two RDTs. GCS, tactical communications, and transportation and logistic support equipment will vary in number and configuration depending upon specific shipboard or land-based use.

The VTUAV effort will be awarded using a cost plus incentive fee/award fee contract which consists of an Engineering and Manufacturing Development (EMD) phase with three options for Low Rate Initial Production (LRIP) VTUAV Systems. The EMD phase consists of a line item for one (1) VTUAV System and line items for the attendant data, training, operational support, and technical manuals. The first LRIP Option consists of one (1) Marine Corps VTUAV System and support equipment/tools, training, technical manuals, and data. The second LRIP Option consists of one (1) Navy VTUAV System and one (1) VTUAV Sea-Based Ground Control Station, support equipment/tools, technical manual updates, training, and data. The third LRIP Option consists of one (1) NAMTRA VTUAV System, support equipment/tools, physical configuration audit, and data.

The VTUAV System is to be equipped with a "Basic Payload" capability consisting of a day/night passive imagery sensor and laser designator with the capability to identify and designate a standard-sized NATO target of 2.5 square meters from a slant range of 8 kilometers (km) (Threshold)/16 km (Objective). The "Basic Payload" will be required for VTUAV system developmental and operational tests planned for 2QFY01 - 3QFY01 timeframe. Additional mission areas for future growth payloads for the VTUAV system are: Reconnaissance, Mine Countermeasures, Target Designation, Battle Management, Chem/Bio Reconnaissance, Signals Intelligence, Counter Cam/Con/Deception, Electronic Warfare, Combat Search and Rescue, Communication/Data Relay, Information Warfare, Ship Missile Defense and Anti-Submarine Warfare. The payloads to be considered should fall within the VTUAV platform's payload capability of 200 lbs. (T) / 300 lbs. (O), 2 cubic feet internal volume and 2.5 kW of power.

On 09 February 2000 Northrop Grumman Corp., San Diego, Calif., was awarded a $93,721,957 cost-plus-incentive-fee, award-fee contract for the engineering and manufacturing development (EMD) phase of the vertical takeoff and landing tactical unmanned aerial vehicle (VTUAV) program. The EMD phase consists of one VTUAV system, technical manuals, operations security program, operational and maintenance training, and pre-operational support.

In September 2001 Northrop Grumman Corporation took delivery of the first Engineering and Manufacturing Development (EMD) RQ-8A Fire Scout Vertical Takeoff and Landing Unmanned Aerial Vehicle from Schweizer Aircraft Corporation, the airframe producer. Dubbed E-1, this is the first of two EMD air vehicles that will be used for risk-reduction testing for the Fire Scout system. During the next several months, E-1 will be outfitted with operational software and undergo extensive system integration testing in preparation for EMD flights scheduled for the first half of 2002. The second EMD vehicle is expected to be delivered later this fall.

Northrop Grumman's Integrated Systems sector is presently flying a company-owned manned version of the Fire Scout near its San Diego facility to test air vehicle performance and handling characteristics. The first low-rate initial production system will be deployed with the Marine Corps and will include three air vehicles, two ground control stations, a data link suite, remote data terminals and modular mission payloads.

The Fire Scout industry team includes Northrop Grumman's Electronic Systems sector based in Baltimore, Md., which is teamed with TAMAM-Israel Aircraft Industries and is responsible for the sensor payload. In addition to Schweizer Aircraft, Elmira, N.Y., the team also includes Lockheed Martin Federal Systems, Owego, N.Y.; L-3 Communications, Salt Lake City, Utah; and Sierra Nevada Corporation, Sparks, Nev.

The Navy's Fire Scout Vertical Takeoff and Landing Tactical Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (VTUAV) launched into its flight test program on May 19, at the Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR) Western Test Range Complex in California.

As part of the first three test sequences, the Fire Scout demonstrated launch abort functionality, command override capability and basic airframe integrity under autonomous operation. Data collection and command and control for the initial flights were performed out of the NGC-R Mobile Control Station.

Build up to first flight began May 18 with a demonstration of the launch abort process. This command was successfully executed as the vehicle began to rise off the runway. Once safely at rest, the normal shutdown command was executed and the air vehicle was ready for the next test.

Before dawn on May 19, the Fire Scout was ready to fly. Following successful engine start and flight power commands, the launch command was initiated. The flight consisted of an autonomous launch, a climb to 30 feet, followed by a transition to forward flight while continuing the climb. As planned, operators conducted an override to the mission mid-flight, commanding the aircraft to stop, hover and land. This event demonstrated a stable in-flight command override capability.

The final test was a demonstration of the fully autonomous guidance, navigation and control system.

This flight consisted again of an autonomous launch, a climb to 30 feet, followed by a transition to forward flight while continuing the climb. The flight route consisted of two waypoints, maintaining speed, altitude and heading. The approach route, utilizing three waypoints, descended the air vehicle from 200 feet and 10 knots to 30 feet and 0 knots. After gaining a valid radar altimeter indication, the Fire Scout descended to touchdown and initiated its shutdown sequence once authorized. The air vehicle contended with 10-knot crosswinds and managed to land within 8 inches of the surveyed recovery point. With a total distance traveled of 4,300 feet, the event successfully demonstrated the fully autonomous capability of the Fire Scout system.

The air vehicle, a derivative of the Schweizer Aircraft model 330 helicopter, is a prototype of the planned Engineering and Manufacturing Development (EMD) system and contains the same Vehicle Management Computer, Kearfott navigator, AN/ARC-210 radios for control links, and other associated avionics.

In July 2003 the Senate Defense Appropriations Committee approved $46.4 million for Schweizer Aircraft to help complete the development and begin production of the Fire Scout RQ-8 Vertical Takeoff and Landing Tactical Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (VTUAV) to be used by the US Navy and Marine Corps. This funding will allow development of the program to be accelerated by making more equipment and resources available. The funds will provide eight air vehicles at the optimal economic production rate as well as up to two ground stations, four blade rotors, sensors, and systems integration. Schweizer Aircraft is responsible for the design and manufacture of the Fire Scout VTUAV in partnership with Northrop Grumman, who is the prime contractor on the project.

The Fire Scout VTUAV is in the final stages of development. Its primary role will be to provide Navy and Marine personnel with information about combat situations and precision targeting on the sea and ashore. The Fire Scout's long endurance, excellent performance, sophisticated payloads, ability to take off and land vertically, and autonomous operating capability make it uniquely able to provide long range surveillance and targeting under the most demanding of tactical conditions.

The Fire Scout's dynamic system is derived Schweizer's Model 333 turbine helicopter, which has been proven by over 20 million flight hours. With vehicle endurance greater than six hours, Fire Scout is capable of extended continuous operations. The Fire Scout will be able to fly 110 nautical miles from launch site, stay aloft for three hours, and then return.

Schweizer Aircraft has been a privately owned manufacturer of aircraft and aerospace components for 63 years. Over 5700 sailplanes, helicopters, agricultural aircraft, and reconnaissance aircraft, designed and manufactured by Schweizer Aircraft, are operated in more than 70 countries around the world.

On July 21, 2005, Northrop Grumman Unmanned Systems conducted a series of flight tests at the Yuma Proving Grounds, AZ, that culminated in two successful launches of a 2.75-inch Hydra-class rocket from the Fire Scout Vertical Takeoff Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (VTUAV). The live-fire demonstrations were preceded by functional flight tests which focused on integration of the launcher-related hardware and software. The functional check flight was followed by a dry run and took place over the same flight path at identical altitudes the UAV would take once armed with a missile. The UAV then performed two separate missile firings, with one missile on the starboard side for each firing run on the preprogrammed route. At the appropriate waypoint, with altitude approximately 1,850 feet and air speed 35 knots, the arm and fire commands were accepted and the missiles were successfully launched from the Fire Scout.

As of mid-August 2005, the US Navy was set to acquire the MQ-8B Fire Scout UAV to fulfill the service’s requirement for a tactical UAV capable of operating in the shipboard environment.




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