The use of aerial drones for U.S. military operations abroad, and more recently, for domestic intelligence gathering operations, has come under increasing scrutiny in recent months.
But there is an upside for the city of Indianapolis: British aerospace company Rolls-Royce recently won the federal contract to manufacture the engines for an upgraded drone Navy helicopter. And that means jobs.
The Indianapolis Rolls-Royce plant is already the company’s largest operation in North America, and its largest outside the UK as well, employing more than 4,000 workers. Employees at this location design, develop and manufacture both civilian and military products, including parts for Lockeed Martin’s much touted Strike Fighter (JSF).
The Navy has placed an order for roughly 200 of the engines that will power an unmanned helicopter drone called the MQ-8C Fire Scout. The engine that is to be produced at the Indianapolis plant represents an upgrade over a previous version, which is part of a Rolls Royce family of engines that have been used in more than 30,000 helicopters and airplanes.
The MQ-8C Fire Scout, made by Northrun Grunman, is a single engine, unmanned, helicopter surveillance drone that offers the best of both worlds, vertical take-off capability combined with the advantages of remote controlled operation. While there may be controversy over the scope of drone use, what is not controversial is the fact that they can carry out such most operations traditionally performed by human pilots, all without putting the pilot’s life at stake.