SAN DIEGO, Nov. 10 (UPI) -- The U.S. Navy's MQ-8B Fire Scout unmanned helicopter is being outfitted with a 70mm rocket weapons system by Northrop Grumman.
The Advanced Precision Kill Weapons System laser-guided 70mm rocket -- in production for the Navy since 2010 -- will allow ship commanders to identify and engage hostile targets without calling in other aircraft for support.
"By arming Fire Scout, the Navy will have a system that can locate and prosecute targets of interest," said George Vardoulakis, Northrop Grumman's vice president for tactical unmanned systems. "This capability shortens the kill chain and lessens the need to put our soldiers in harm's way."
Northrop said it will develop and deliver equipment needed to control the weapons system under a $17 million contract awarded to the company Sept. 23 by Naval Air Systems Command.
Delivery of an operational system is expected by March 2013. Once delivered, Fire Scout will be Navy's first sea-based unmanned system to carry weapons.
The Fire Scout, with its ability to operate at low ground speeds, makes it particularly well-suited for supporting littoral missions such as drug interdiction, antipiracy actions, search-and-rescue, reconnaissance and port security.
Fire Scout features a modular architecture that accommodates a variety of electro-optical, infrared and communications payloads. These payloads provide ground- and ship-based commanders with high levels of situational awareness and precision targeting support.