Warplanes: Fire Scout Takes A Big Hit


January 23, 2010: The U.S. Army has cancelled its RQ-8B Fire Scout UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle). It was six years ago that the Fire Scout VTOL (vertical takeoff, it's a helicopter) UAV project was selected as part of the Future Combat System (FCS) family of unmanned vehicles. Development was to take an eight years, and cost $115 million. Fire Scout is based upon the Schweitzer 333 unmanned helicopter, which in turn is derived from the Schweitzer 330 commercial lightweight manned helicopter. The U.S. Navy was also interested in Fire Scout, and they have developed, and put into use, their own RQ-8A version. The RQ-8B died because the army already had plenty of UAVs that got the job done. The navy kept fire scout because helicopters are more practical on most navy ships (for landings and takeoffs.)

This is not the first time the army has cancelled UAV development efforts, because the new system did not really improve on existing ones. Three years ago, the army halted development of two new UAVs. One was to be a replacement for the 350 pound Shadow 200, and other a replacement for the larger Hunter (which lost out to the Predator in a late 1990s competition). The army continued work on Sky Warrior (from the same outfit that makes the Predator). The army continued development on a new micro-UAV to replace the current Raven (the most widely used UAV in the world, with several thousand in the hands of the troops), and a miniature helicopter type UAV (Fire Scout) that can, of course, hover. Money was tight, and the army has found that the performance of the Shadow has been quite good. 

A RQ-7B Shadow 200 UAV platoon (3-4 UAVs and the ground control equipment) is usually assigned to each combat brigade. The Shadow 200 UAVs can stay in the air 5.5 hours per sortie, and carry a day camera and night vision camera. Max altitude is 15,000 feet. Thus the Shadow can go into hostile territory and stay high enough (over 10,000 feet) to be safe from hostile rifle and machine-gun fire.

The Raven replacement will take advantage of many new technologies now available for lightweight UAVs. The army has found, however, that the tech area showing the most rapid advancement have to do with the video cameras. These are getting more capable, lighter and cheaper. So a UAV's capability can be greatly improved just by installing a new camera. This is delaying any rush to replace the Raven, which is very popular with the troops.



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