The Navy this month shipped a group of high-tech Fire Scout unmanned helicopters to Afghanistan to support Army and coalition forces.
Fire Scouts are an in-development weapons program designed for use aboard Navy ships. The aircraft shipped to Afghanistan, however, will operate from land for about a year in support of Central Command.
A Fire Scout system consists of an unmanned MQ-8B helicopter and a ground control station. Two ground control stations and three Fire Scout aircraft were shipped to Afghanistan on April 8 and 13, Navy officials said.
Unmanned aerial vehicles, or UAVs, have seen widespread use in Afghanistan as reconnaissance and strike aircraft since the early 2000s. Most of the UAVs are fixed-wing aircraft, but the Fire Scout is a small helicopter, which can stay aloft for eight hours, flying up to 20,000 feet high and traveling at 130 miles per hour.
Fire Scouts can fly autonomously — taking off, completing missions and landing without direct control by a pilot. The aircraft shipped by the Navy are equipped with advanced cameras and sensor equipment, “which will provide hundreds of hours of full motion video,” Navy officials said in a press release.
Some versions of the Fire Scout have been fitted with missiles and other weapons capable of striking targets on the ground.