MQ-9B SkyGuardian and the maritime variation, SeaGuardian, from General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc. (GA-ASI), will become the world’s most advanced Remotely Piloted Aircraft (RPA) when the first variant is delivered to the UK Royal Air Force (RAF) as the Protector RG Mk1 in the early 2020s. Demand for MQ-9B throughout the world is building. The Australian Government has selected GA-ASI’s MQ-9B SkyGuardian to provide the Armed RPAS for the Australian Defence Force (ADF) under Project Air 7003. The Government of Belgium has approved Belgian defence to negotiate the acquisition of SkyGuardian to meet the nation’s RPA requirements.
In India, the Ministry of Defence (MOD) has ordered the procurement consideration to be expanded to include the Indian Air Force and Indian Army, ensuring a larger purchase of aircraft than was originally envisioned for the Indian Navy. This larger purchase will allow the already low cost of the unmanned platform to be maximised by economies of scale. There will also be economies when the areas of personnel and sustainment are considered, particularly among the three services. For the Indian Air Force specifically, sources stated that the procurement of the MQ-9Baircraft will accelerate the sale of the GA-ASI jet-powered Avenger, bringing yet another ‘game-changing’ capability to India.
The MOD’s decision will also allow for the services to customise the aircraft to fit their particular requirements. The SkyGuardian aircraft is highly modular and is easily configured with a variety of payloads and weapons. With the signing of COMCASA in 2018, the aircraft will include a US tactical data link that will allow the Indian Armed Services to be truly interoperable. MQ-9B is a ground-up redesign of earlier variants. This was done in order to earn certification to fly in non-segregated airspace and integrate seamlessly with manned aircraft. GA-ASI expects MQ-9B to achieve certification in the early 2020s when the aircraft initially will meet NATO STANAG-4671 airworthiness standards, and subsequently will meet commercial airworthiness certification standards in cooperation with the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).
As a truly multi-mission aircraft, nine external hardpoints on MQ-9B offer unmatched 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. MQ-9B boasts a max airspeed of 210 KTAS and an endurance of more than 40 hours.
In addition to exceptional endurance, SeaGuardian can provide countries with state-of-the-art sensors that offer unparalleled ISR capabilities for a wide range of operational and threat environments. Capable of operating at Beyond Line of Sight (BLOS) ranges at altitudes over 40,000 feet and in inclement weather conditions, the MQ-9B can also provide EO/IR Full Motion Video (FMV), Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) imagery, and Ground Moving Target Indicator (GMTI) data about potential threats to military commanders in real-time from stand-off ranges without harm to the aircrew.