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Navy to convert 8 Fire Scout UAVs

The Navy has high hopes for the Fire Scout unmanned helicopter, but first it has to get more of them -- and it is. The service issued a $42 million contract on Monday to convert eight Army Fire Scouts to "Navy configuration," with the goal that the birds will be ready for service by 2013. Just because the Fire Scouts are coming from the Army, however, this won't necessarily involve peeling off "Army of One" stickers and putting on "Global Force For Good" decals.

"The Army aircraft are just bare airframes without any specific avionics, Army or Navy," said Jamie Cosgrove, a spokeswoman for Naval Air Systems Command. "The extent of the effort is to ensure they are ready to take on the Navy avionics and make the minor design corrections to the airframes."

For now, the helicopters will just be your basic unmanned surveillance aircraft, but the Navy could someday arm the Fire Scout with torpedoes to hunt submarines or missiles to attack other ships at sea. Planners have even talked about having two Fire Scouts hunt in tandem, one flying low over the ocean to search for submarines, another staying high so it can send information back to its mother ship and, if necessary, relay orders to its partner to attack.

Via Scoop Deck, here's a video from one of the Fire Scout's exploits from last year, a test mission in which it helped American authorities disrupt a shipment of drugs in the Eastern Pacific:

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