Naval Air: Fire Scout Gets Super Vision


July 11, 2014: The U.S. Navy successfully tested an RDR-1700 maritime-surveillance radar mounted on its MQ-8B Fire Scout helicopter UAVs. The original plan was to do this before the end of 2013 but there were technical problems that delayed the successful test until June 2014. The navy is in a hurry and wants this new capability as soon as possible. The contract calls for the AN/ZPY-4(V)1 (originally the RDR-1700) radars installed on nine MQ-8Bs at a cost of $3.7 million per aircraft.

The 32 kg (71 pound) AN/ZPY-4(V)1 operates in a 180 degree mount in the nose of the the helicopter. This is a SAR (Synthetic Aperture Radar) system that shows objects on the water in a photorealistic way. The max range of this SAR is 80 kilometers, although for the most detailed resolution max range is 25 kilometers. SAR can see through clouds and even sand storms (which sometimes blow out over coastal waters). The AN/ZPY-4(V)1 can also be used over land for terrain mapping or for weather detection. The software enables the radar to track up to twenty surface or aerial objects at a time. The AN/ZPY-4(V)1 is be operated from the ship it took off from and provides longer range search and reconnaissance capability at night and in bad weather. This would be particularly useful in the Persian Gulf (where Iran uses a lot of small but heavily armed speed boats) or off the Somali coast (where pirates like to operate at night with multiple speedboats stalking a larger ship). The U.S. Navy has been equipping frigates and destroyers with one or two MQ-8Bs. The navy currently has 27 MQ-8s.

The latest version of the 1.4 ton MQ-8 is based on the 1.5 ton Schweitzer 330 manned helicopter. The MQ-8B can carry up to 136 kg (300 pounds) of sensors and weapons. It has an endurance of 5.5 hours and a cruise speed of 150 kilometers an hour. The MQ-8B can  the APKWS, which is an 11.4 kg (25 pound) 70mm laser guided missile (based on the World War II era 70mm unguided rocket) with a range of 6,000 meters.


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