Union Tribune

February 7, 2002

Northrop Grumman seeks Fire Scout funding


WASHINGTON Northrop Grumman officials turned to the news
media yesterday in an attempt to build support for continued
funding of its Fire Scout unmanned aerial vehicle program.

The Navy has canceled the Fire Scout, a pint-sized, pilotless
helicopter that was to be used for surveillance and to help guide
artillery and aerial attacks. The Navy has shifted its attention to
the Global Hawk, a much larger long-range unmanned plane.

Both programs are being developed by Northrop Grumman's
Ryan Aeronautics Center in Rancho Bernardo.

In a presentation to defense reporters, Northrop officials
Thomas Williams and Timothy Beard argued that the Fire Scout
system would provide unmatched capabilities for the Navy and
the Marine Corps.

The vertical takeoff and landing aircraft could operate from most
Navy ships or from unprepared field positions. The naval
services use the Pioneer, a small, short-range, fixed-wing drone
that is recovered aboard ships in a net.

Northrop data showed the Fire Scout able to fly higher, faster
and longer and carry a heavier payload of surveillance and
targeting instruments or communications relay systems than
the Pioneer.

With its precision target location system, the Fire Scout could
provide coordinates for artillery fire control centers or for
aircraft dropping bombs that are guided by global positioning
system satellites. Or it could use a laser designator to spot for
laser-guided bombs, Northrop officials said.

Fire Scouts are directed by ship-or ground-based control
stations using the Northrop-developed system. When fully
developed, the control system could direct most unmanned
drones and provide improved exchange of intelligence and
target data, the officials said.

Under contracts awarded in March 2000 and April 2001,
Northrop is producing five air vehicles and five control stations
and will conduct initial flight testing and other trials and

Although the Navy said the program was evaluated as
"potentially effective and potentially suitable" in initial tests, it
has cut off funding for the Fire Scout and shifted to "long-range
intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance and weapons
capabilities" with the Global Hawk.

An expert on unmanned aircraft with the Marines said the Fire
Scout was determined to be too big, too expensive and too
vulnerable to enemy fire.

The proposed 2003 Navy budget would buy two Global Hawks
for initial evaluation. Navy spokeswoman Sandy Schroeder said
the Fire Scout systems would be used to develop the control
systems and improve drone concepts, but will not become

However, the Global Hawk cannot provide the tactical scouting
and fire-support aid the Marines need.

Although Schroeder said the Marines will continue to use the
Pioneer, the budget does not provide funds for any.

Maj. John Cane of the Marine Corps Warfighting Laboratory said
the lab is working on two much smaller aircraft, including a
300-pound helicopter called Dragon Warrior, to meet its needs.