General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc. (GA‑ASI) announces its plan to take a company-owned SkyGuardian Remotely Piloted Aircraft to the United Kingdom later this year to undertake a series of operational capability demonstrations for NATO allies, including the Netherlands.
The UK’s Protector program is a derivative of SkyGuardian with a range of UK modifications and the Royal Air Force (RAF) is supporting this visit.
The GA-ASI aircraft will be configured with maritime capability, including a multi-mode maritime surface-search radar with Inverse Synthetic Aperture Radar imaging mode, an Automatic Identification System receiver, and a High-Definition, Full-Motion Video sensor equipped with optical and infrared cameras. This will build on previous GA-ASI demonstrations showcasing the unmanned advantage, which include the transatlantic flight of SkyGuardian in 2018, maritime demonstrations in Greece in 2019 and last year’s validation flights in Japan.
“GA-ASI will work closely with multiple European allies to demonstrate the capabilities of MQ-9B, including in the maritime environment, and how MQ-9B can complement and team within a networked environment with other national assets,” said Tommy Dunehew, vice president of International Strategic Development for GA-ASI.
The series of civilian and military capability events is expected to kick off in July at the Royal Air Force’s Waddington Air Base and will culminate with the MQ-9B’s participation in the UK-led Joint Warrior exercise that will showcase how maritime capabilities can be integrated with other air, surface and land platforms. SkyGuardian flights will further develop GA-ASI’s revolutionary Detect and Avoid capability, which will enable Protector to fly in unsegregated UK airspace. It will also assist RAF Waddington, the future home of the RAF Protector fleet, to best prepare to integrate the new aircraft into its daily operations.
MQ-9B represents the next generation of RPA system having demonstrated airborne endurance of more than 40 hours, automatic takeoffs and landings under SATCOM-only control and the Detect and Avoid system. Its development is the result of a company-funded effort to deliver an RPA that can meet the stringent airworthiness certification requirements of various military and civil authorities.
MQ-9B has garnered significant interest from customers throughout the world. The UK Ministry of Defence selected MQ-9B SkyGuardian for its Protector program, and in 2020 signed the production contract for deliveries to the Royal Air Force. SkyGuardian was selected by Australia under Project Air 7003.
As a reminder: in July 2020, GA-ASI has signed a contract with the UK Ministry of Defence (MoD) for the manufacture and delivery of Protector RG Mk1 Remotely Piloted Air Systems (RPAS).
The contract covers a total of 16 aircraft (initial order of three platforms with an option for an additional 13) and sevenGround Control Stations (GCS), together with associated ground support equipment. The first system will be delivered in 2021, though it will remain in the U.S. to be utilized in the test and evaluation program.
GA-ASI’s development of MQ-9B began in 2014 as a company-funded program to deliver an RPA that meets the stringent STANAG-4671 UAV System Airworthiness Requirements, which provide the basis for type certification by NATO member-state military airworthiness authorities. The MQ-9B is provisioned for the GA-ASI-developed Detect and Avoid System (DAAS) and is built for adverse weather performance with lightning protection, damage tolerance, and de-icing system. It features rapid integration of new payloads with nine hard points. The aircraft can “self-deploy” using SATCOM-enabled Automatic Takeoff and Landing, which eliminates forward-based launch-and-recovery equipment and personnel. In addition to the SkyGuardian, MQ-9B is also available as the SeaGuardian for maritime missions.
On 20 August 2020, GA-ASI as signed a Foreign Military Sales contract with the U.S. Air Force for Belgian Ministry of Defense to acquire the MQ-9B SkyGuardian Remotely Piloted Aircraft System (RPAS). The contract covers the design, development, integration and production of the RPAS with its EO/IR video and SAR/GMTI surveillance payloads, as well as Certifiable Ground Control Stations (CGCS), Portable Pre-Flight/Post-Flight Equipment (P3E), ground support equipment and spares. First delivery is expected in 2023.
Within this framework, Belgium also has a cooperation agreement with the UK. This agreement will enable synergies with a NATO partner that will use the same equipment. It should also be noted that this is the first time that an American weapons system will enter into service within the Belgian Air Component before the United States has ordered this system.