Drone Helicopter Gets Deadlier with "Precision Kill" Weapons UpgradeS

The MQ-8 Fire Scout, an unmanned helicopter used for reconnaissance work by all branches of the US military, made news this week when the Navy grounded its Fire Scout aircraft after a pair of recent crashes. The current machines are unarmed, but by 2013, a planned weapons upgrade will make them first sea-based, armed drone helicopter in the Navy's arsenal.

The Northrop Grumman MQ-8B Fire Scout is 24 feet long, nine feet tall, and weighs 2,073 pounds. Its 27-foot diameter quad-blade rotor is powered by a Rolls-Royce 250 engine. The Fire Scout is capable of toting up to 700 pounds of payload on short missions, it can deploy for up to eight hours within a 110nm range, and climb to an operational ceiling of 20,000 feet.

In a a $17 million deal signed in November, the military made plans to outfit the Fire Scouts with a variety of ordnance, including Hellfire missiles, Viper Strike laser-guided glide weapons, and laser-guided 70 mm rockets, all part of the "Advanced Precision Kill Weapon System (APKWS)." Despite the new killing capacity, the MQ-8Bs will continue to serve as recon platforms replete with a laser target-designating turret, multispectral sensor, Target Acquisition Minefield Detection System, and Tactical Common Data Link.

The MQ-8B isn't even the biggest and baddest of the Fire Scout line. Northrop Grumman is currently at work on the MQ-8C, which will feature the same internal technology as the earlier models but will be fitted into a Bell 407 chassis. Known as the Fire-X, it will feature increased range and carrying capacities. Currently, 28 Fire-Xs are under construction and will be delivered in 2014. Hopefully the rest of the Fire Scout fleet will be back up and flying by then. [Northrop Grumman - Innovation News Daily - Wikipedia - Wired - Slate - Image: Northrop Grumman]