Northrop Grumman delivered the first MQ-8C aircraft to the Navy in early July in preparation for ground and flight testing.
The upcoming tests will be used to validate the upgraded MQ-8 system for operational use. Initial ground testing will ensure that the systems work properly and communicate with the ground control station prior to conducting first flight. The MQ-8 system with the upgraded MQ-8C aircraft will share proven software, avionics, payloads and ship ancillary equipment with the MQ-8B aircraft.
The upgraded Fire Scout responds to an urgent need to provide the Navy with increased endurance, range and payload. Using a modified commercially available airframe, the upgraded MQ-8 system can provide commanders with three times the payload and double the endurance at extended ranges compared to the current MQ-8B variant.
The MQ-8B aircraft currently operates on Navy frigates and in Afghanistan, where it provides intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities to maritime and ground commanders.
The first deployment of the upgraded MQ-8 system with the MQ-8C Fire Scout aircraft will be in 2014.