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Fire Scout unmanned rotorcraft flight tested from US Navy LCS

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The Fire Scout unmanned helicopter. A Northrop Grumman photo

PACIFIC OCEAN, CALIFORNIA (BNS): The Northrop Grumman-built MQ-8C Fire Scout unmanned helicopter system has completed its maiden test flight from onboard the US Navy's  Independence-class littoral combat ship (LCS) USS Montgomery.

The flight took place off the coast of California during the second phase of "dynamic interface" testing, Northrop Grumman announced on April 11.

The two week at-sea exercise allowed the US Navy to test the autonomous rotorcraft's airworthiness and ability to land and take off from the littoral combat ship throughout a broad operational envelope.

Earlier in December 2015, the MQ-8C Fire Scout had conducted its initial at-sea flight test aboard the guided missile destroyer, USS Jason Dunham.

"Fire Scout's successful testing aboard USS Montgomery and USS Dunham proves its capability to fly from multiple air capable ships," said Capt. Jeff Dodge, programme manager, Fire Scout, Naval Air Systems Command.

"We plan to have the MQ-8C Fire Scout deployed aboard multiple ships in the near future giving the fleet the persistent intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance and targeting asset they need," the Navy official said.

With the completion of the latest test, the MQ-8C Fire Scout is now a step closer to Initial Operational Test and Evaluation (IOT&E) and full operational deployment, Northrop said.

"When the MQ-8C deploys with its advanced AESA maritime radar, the US Navy will have unmatched situational awareness and the ability to provide sea control in any contested maritime environment," Leslie Smith, vice president, tactical autonomous systems, Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems, said.

The MQ-8C Fire Scout is built on the legacy of the MQ-8B Fire Scout programme.

US Navy's Helicopter Squadron 23 is currently operating onboard the deployed littoral combat ship, USS Coronado (LCS 4), with two MQ-8B Fire Scouts in the South China Sea.

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