Future Tense

Navy Suspends Use of Helicopter Drones 

After two recent crashes, the Navy is taking an “operational pause” on its Fire Scout drone program.

Flight Global broke the story on Monday. A helicopter drone was unable to land on a ship off the coast of West Africa on March 30. A week later, on April 6, a Fire Scout crashed while on a mission in Afghanistan.

In a case of remarkably bad timing, on April 5, the Navy announced that it would begin testing Fire Scouts armed with 3-D laser imaging technology to help spot pirates at sea.


Last year, the Navy Times noted that, according to a 2010 Pentagon report, the drones did not perform well in Defense Department tests:

The report found that the Fire Scout completed 29 of 58 assigned missions while on the frigate—a 50 percent success rate—and failed 10 of 10 test missions at Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Md., as it prepared to support Operation Enduring Freedom.

Last summer, a robotic helicopter was taken down by Libyan forces. Until now, though, Navy officials backed the program and continued to expand the fleet, according to Wired.

The robotic helicopters have been used for surveillance, among other types of missions. According to a November 2011 post on AOL Defense, the Navy had been planning to equip the drones with rockets by March 2013. The Fire Scout would have been the first armed drone built to work at sea: It launches from Navy ships and would have been able to hit targets on the water.