A windowless helicopter perched on the flight deck of USS Freedom is a glimpse into the military’s future with unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV).
The Fire Scout is on public display for the first time during San Diego Fleet Week. The UAV is being developed for the Navy for use on the new class of Littoral Combat Ships (LCS). San Diego based USS Freedom, which wrapped up a brief maiden deployment over the summer, is one of two LCS prototypes the Navy is considering for production.
Fire Scout is a vertical take off and landing vehicle that really does have a mind of its own.
“It’s got brains in computers and in software that manage and fly the vehicle,” said Northrop Grumman’s Jim Zortman. The autonomous vehicle was created and developed at the company’s Rancho Bernardo facility.
“You tell it what you want it to do and it goes and does it,” Zortman said.
Surveillance and reconnaissance are two of the Fire Scout’s biggest benefits. It can stay out on missions longer and go father than piloted aircraft. It can also be configured to fire weapons.
The highly sophisticated system operates with controls similar to an entertainment mainstay in most living rooms.
“In a lot of cases gaming technology and something that might look like a video game is the thing that really ends up being a useful interface,” said Zortman as he explained why the multi-billion dollar unmanned aircraft industry offers a lot of opportunities for computer savvy high school and college students in San Diego.
Northrop Grumman has approximately 5,000 employees in the San Diego area working on other unmanned vehicles in addition to the Fire Scout. The company is one of the two major players in the UAV industry in San Diego along with Poway based General Atomics.
“Anybody who is going to do unmanned vehicles, they’re really in San Diego because that’s where the action is,” Zortman said.