On Tuesday morning, a Northrop Grumman MQ-8 Fire Scout was shot down by Moammar Gadhafi's forces in Libya, becoming NATO's first combat casualty in the conflict. The U.S. Navy has been testing Fire Scouts for five years or so, and the robots have progressed from shipboard autonomous landings all the way to accidental drug busts, but this is the first we've heard of them actually involved in a major military operation.
Presumably, the Fire Scouts are being used solely as surveillance platforms, although they've also been successfully tested as weapons platforms, as you can see in the second half of this vid:
So far, the Navy hasn't said much about what exactly the Fire Scout was doing when it was shot down beyond the obligatorily vague "performing intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance over Libya to monitor pro-Gadhafi forces threatening the civilian population." It's remarkable how not big of a deal this incident is relative to what the response would have been had (say) a manned Apache gunship been shot down instead, as Libyan state TV originally claimed.
Photo: Northrop Grumman
[ Fire Scout ] via [ BBC ] and [ Danger Room ]
Evan Ackerman is a senior editor at IEEE Spectrum. Since 2007, he has written over 6,000 articles on robotics and technology. He has a degree in Martian geology and is excellent at playing bagpipes.