What's the latest U.S. drone to be armed? The Navy's MQ-8 Fire Scout helicopter. Northrop Grumman has begun helping the Navy arm the little robo-choppers with the Advanced Precision Kill Weapons System -- basically, laser-guided 70-mm Hydra rockets, according to a company announcement.
The newly armed Fire Scouts will give ships -- especially smaller ones that can't house MH-60 Sea Hawks -- the ability to hunt down and kill targets from the sky.
"By arming Fire Scout, the Navy will have a system that can locate and prosecute targets of interest," said George Vardoulakis, Northrop Grumman's vice president for tactical unmanned systems in a Nov. 8 company announcement. "This capability shortens the kill chain and lessens the need to put our soldiers in harm's way."
Northrop's announcement also points out that the MQ-9's small size and ability to hover makes it perfect for ISR and now hunter-killer missions in coastal regions. Remember when a Fire Scout went down in Libya a few months ago? You know this thing is going to be used to hunt Somali pirates and terrorists all over the Horn of Africa and southern Arabian Peninsula. Oh, and don't forget inland missions, too.
The release goes on to say that Northrop will develop and deliver the equipment needed to control the weapons under a $17 million contract awarded to the company on Sept 23. Final delivery is set for March 2013.
The Navy and Northrop were thinking about putting the Griffin rocket on the MQ-8 but for some reason they have selected the smaller 70-mm rockets. Maybe it's a matter of weight. In any case, let's hope this doesn't happen with an armed Fire Scout.