The SeaGuardian is maritime version of the MQ-9B SkyGuardian from General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, and is slated to become the world’s most advanced RPA when the first variant is delivered to the Royal Air Force as the Protector RG Mk1 in the early 2020s. “Protector will be a step change for us in terms of capability,” stated RAF Group Captain Lyndon Jones, “the new aircraft will offer greater range and endurance, and will be certified to fly in UK airspace.” On 11 July, 2018 the MQ-9B became the first Medium-altitude, Long-endurance (MALE) RPA system to complete a trans- Atlantic flight when it landed at the Royal Air Force airfield at Fairford in Gloucestershire, the flight having originated from GA-ASI’s Flight Test and Training Centre in Grand Forks, North Dakota, USA. As the RAF awaits its first delivery, demand from other parts of the world continues to increase. In addition to the UK and the United States, countries such as Italy and France have GA-ASI MQ-9A systems in their inventory, and the United Arab Emirates operates the Predator RPA, while Spain and the Netherlands have MQ-9 systems on order. In November, the Government of Belgium announced its selection of MQ-9B SkyGuardian to meet this RPA requirements and the Australian Government has announced GA-ASI to provide the Armed RPA system under Project Air 7003. Discussions are ongoing with several other countries.
A mature system
The MQ-9B leverages the mature system architecture of the legacy MQ-9A, with more than two million flight hours, while incorporating enhancements that support mission capability, global industrial expertise, and its goal of achieving unfettered access to national and international airspace. Nine external hardpoints on the MQ-9B offer great configurability to meet diverse mission requirements. In the basic Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (ISR) configuration, the standard SeaGuardian is equipped with a high-definition Electro-optical/Infrared (EO/IR) sensor and a high-performance 360° multi-mode maritime radar to support maritime patrol and surveillance missions. In contrast to the MQ-9A, the MQ-9B’s wings have been extended by four metres to a total length of 24m to accommodate additional fuel capacity, while also providing greater lift and endurance. The wing extension adds two hardpoints for a total of nine that can accommodate a maximum external payload of 2,155 kg. The SeaGuardian has a range of 6,000- plus nautical miles with an endurance of more than 40 hours. GA-ASI flew an MQ- 9B for 48.2 hours on 2,721 kg of fuel in May 2017, thus “providing greater endurance at lower operating cost, the SeaGuardian being ideally suited to complement manned maritime patrol aircraft in performing wide-area maritime surveillance.”