Northrop Delivers First New Robot Drone to the U.S. Navy

Christmas came early to the Pentagon this week, when on Friday, Northrop Grummandelivered its first new MQ-8C "upgraded" Fire Scout unmanned helicopter to the U.S. Navy.

In March, Northrop was awarded $71.6 million by the Pentagon to modify and deliver six upgraded Fire Scouts to the Navy "in support of the VTUAV endurance upgrade rapid deployment capability effort." The helicopter delivered earlier this month, therefore, would appear to be the first of a flight of six that are due to be delivered by September 2014.

What the Navy is not getting, however, is the even more upgraded "Fire" vehicle that has been described as the "Fire-X," an armed version of the basic MQ-8 vehicle, equipped with Griffin and Hellfire missiles, as well as APKWS II guided rockets.

According to Northrop's press release, the helicopter delivered this month features "three times the payload and double the endurance at extended ranges compared to the current MQ-8B variant." But it does notappear to come equipped with guns.

Testing of the new bird is expected to begin shortly "to conduct and demonstrate long endurance and systems testing in a maritime environment" and " to validate and mature the upgraded MQ-8 system for operational use."

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