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General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc. (GA‑ASI) will take a company-owned SkyGuardian Remotely Piloted Aircraft (RPA) to the UK later this year to undertake a series of operational capability demonstrations for NATO allies, including the Netherlands. The UK’s PROTECTOR programme is a derivative of SkyGuardian with a range of UK modifications.

For this visit, which the RAF is supporting, the 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
  • 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 Offering

The series of civilian and military capability events is expected to kick off in July at RAF’s Waddington 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.

Previously, the MQ-9B has 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.

The MQ-9B has garnered significant interest from customers throughout the world. In addition to the UK, which signed the production contract for deliveries to the RAF in 2020, SkyGuardian has been selected by the Australia and Belgium.

Jack Richardson