On 15 and 16 May, General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc. (GA-ASI) organized meetings with Belgian companies active in the aeronautical sector for a possible future collaboration with the American company.
About fifty companies responded to the call and nineteen Belgium-based companies presented their ideas and cutting-edge capabilities to a panel of technical experts from GA-ASI with the goal of selection to support the development of MQ-9B SkyGuardian Remotely Piloted Aircraft (RPA) for Belgium.
This outreach event, called “Blue Magic Belgium,” follows the Government of Belgium’s approval for Belgian Defense to negotiate acquisition of GA-ASI’s SkyGuardian to meet the nation’s RPA requirements.
The 19 selected companies were split into two groups. A first meeting with ten of them and the American company was held on 15 May in Liège followed by a second meeting on 16 May in Sint-Truiden for the remaining nine. The aim of these events was to increase the number of Belgian technology companies able to provide research and development (R & D) and innovation to support GA-ASI.
“GA-ASI looks forward to working with our Belgian teammates to make the MQ-9B procurement a success,” said Linden Blue, CEO, GA-ASI, “We’re committed to providing the best RPA to Belgian Defense and all NATO countries. To support that effort, we’re identifying and establishing relationships with companies across Belgium that can assist us”, said Linden Blue, CEO, GA-ASI.”
The companies that participated were: Aerosimulators, Airobot, Altran, ALX Systems, Any Shape, Arcadia Industries, Capaul, Coexpair, Feronyl, Hexagon, KuLeuven, Mockel, MSC Software, Simtech, Sirris, Spacebel, Unifly, (Un)Manned and VeroTech.
On January 2019, GA-ASI the leading manufacturer of Remotely Piloted Aircraft (RPA) systems, radars, electro-optic and related mission systems, announced that it has teamed with five Belgium-based businesses as part of an industrial collaboration effort with the Belgian aerospace and defense industry. Team SkyGuardian Belgium includes GA-ASI, SABCA, Thales Belgium, Esterline, DronePort, and satellite communication technology company Newtec.
GA-ASI and SABCA signed an MOU that outlines their cooperation for production and Maintenance Repair Operations (MRO) activities, including initial in-country entry into service and support for SkyGuardian. The MOU also covers production of the lightning-protected SATCOM radome for all MQ-9B SkyGuardian and SeaGuardian systems at SABCA Limburg. The parties intend to develop the first Europe-based MRO facility for MQ-9B actuators at SABCA in Brussels.
“SABCA’s focus on MRO and upgrade of platforms and equipment positions our company as a strong industrial partner to GA-ASI for this endeavor,” said Thibauld Jongen, CEO, SABCA. “We look forward to transferring our proven expertise in manned aircraft system integration, testing, qualification, and certification to ensure the success of Belgium’s new RPA program.”
GA‑ASI and Thales Belgium S.A. have signed an MOU to collaborate on RPA surveillance sensor data processing, exploitation, and dissemination (PED) solutions, including the integration of MQ-9B into Belgian military data networks. Thales Belgium has extensive experience providing intelligence, infrastructure, and PED capabilities to Belgian forces.
“RPA technology is critical to protecting the national security interests of countries around the globe,” said Alain Quevrin, CEO, Thales Belgium S.A. “We look forward to sharing our technical and in-country expertise with GA-ASI as it seeks to support Belgium’s current Medium-altitude, Long-range (MALE) RPA requirement.”
As part of its European supply chain, the company procures Ground Control Station displays from Esterline in Flanders. “As a trusted and long-time partner of GA-ASI, Esterline is looking forward to equipping the SkyGuardian Ground Control Stations, thus supporting both GA-ASI and the Belgian Air Force,” said Michel Potvin, president of Esterline Avionics Systems. “We are proud to be part of this new RPA program and are keen to further develop a joint roadmap together with GA-ASI, capitalizing on the ruggedized visualization expertise of our Kortrijk facility.”
DronePort Incubator is the home for startups and research teams involved in the new, unmanned aviation market. The test facilities provide segregated airspace and the opportunity to test and demonstrate new UAV applications. DronePort will facilitate the identification of UAS-technology seed funding opportunities within Belgium. “DronePort sees in this partnership with GA-ASI and the other partners a huge opportunity for the numerous start-ups and scale-ups in Belgium. The transfer of knowledge in this collaboration offers many new possibilities and strengthens the ecosystem around DronePort,” said Mark Vanlook, CEO, DroneP.
The total economic value of Team SkyGuardian’s efforts to Belgian industry is estimated to be in excess of €100 million over the life of the program.
General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc. (GA-ASI), an affiliate of General Atomics, is a leading designer and manufacturer of proven, reliable Remotely Piloted Aircraft (RPA) systems, radars, and electro-optic and related mission systems, including the Predator® RPA series and the Lynx® Multi-mode Radar. With more than five million flight hours, GA-ASI provides long-endurance, mission-capable aircraft with integrated sensor and data link systems required to deliver persistent flight that enables situational awareness and rapid strike. The company also produces a variety of ground control stations and sensor control/image analysis software, offers pilot training and support services, and develops meta-material antennas.
Concerning the MQ-9B, GA-ASI will propose it to various countries like Canada, Australia, Rumania or India. This version B is an advance over the MQ-9 A version with its 40 hours of autonomy (instead of 26h) or with its detection and deconflict system with civil flying aircraft in the airspace. It will also have a lifespan of 40000 hours instead of 20000h for the A version.
It is designed for missions of Surveillance and Recognition (ISR), strike and information sharing. With the carriage of a pod, he can do maritime surveillance and detection.