Naval Air: Cannot Stop The Robot Helicopters

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February 22, 2008: The U.S. Navy's new helicopter UAV, the RQ-8A Fire Scout [PHOTO], is being assigned to another class of ships. The RQ-8A was originally developed for use on the Littoral Combat Ship (LCS), and was due to enter service next year. But the LCS is behind schedule and the Fire Scout isn't, so the navy is assigning the Fire Scout to other ships. It's uncertain what other ships will get the Fire Scout, perhaps some that are operating in the Persian Gulf or off the Somali coast. This would give the Fire Scout some real world experience, especially since it is able to fire Hellfire missiles and unguided 70mm unguided rockets.

The RQ-8A can stay in the air for up to eight hours at a time (five hour missions are more common), has a top speed of 230 kilometers an hour, and can operate up to 230 kilometers from its controller (on land, or a ship.) The RQ-8A is being developed for use on the new Littoral Combat Ship (LCS). Three production models have been delivered, and nine more are under construction.

The U.S. Army is buying the slightly more capable RQ-8B, which will be particularly useful supporting combat operations in urban areas. Both versions carry day and night cameras, GPS and targeting gear (laser range finders and designators). The RQ-8 is based on a two seat civilian helicopter (the Schweizer Model 333), and has a maximum takeoff weight of 1.5 tons. With its rotors folded (for storage on ships), the RQ-8 is 23 feet long and 9.4 feet high. Max payload is 600 pounds, meaning it would probably carry hundred pound Hellfire, or 44 pound Viper Strike missiles. Each RQ-8 UAV costs about $8 million (including a share of the ground control equipment and some spares.) The flight control software enables the RQ-8 to land and take off automatically.

 


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