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Belgium and the United Kingdom have signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) to facilitate close co-operation and future collaboration on their GA-ASI MQ-9B SkyGuardian medium-altitude long-endurance unmanned aerial vehicle (MALE UAV) programmes, the UK Royal Air Force (RAF) announced on 5 April 2023.

“As the lead customer procuring the MQ-9B, to be known as the Protector RG1 in RAF service, the UK has established the MQ-9B Co-operation MoU to enable co-operation between like-minded international governments who have procured a variant of the MQ-9B,” the RAF stated in a press release. “The signing sees the UK and Belgium become the initial participants of the MoU, which allows them to enter into detailed arrangements to work together on all programme areas, including certification and airworthiness, training, sustainment, and future capability enhancements.”

The UK initially ordered three MQ-9Bs under a contract announced in July 2020 and then a further 13 in July 2021. Belgium ordered four MQ-9Bs in August 2020.

“This agreement further cements the close relationship between the UK and Belgium and affirms our joint commitment to the strategic unity and defence of Europe and NATO,” Air Commodore Alex Hicks, the RAF’s Assistant Chief of Staff for Capability Delivery on Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance, was quoted as saying in the RAF press release.

Major General Ivan De Tender, Belgium’s Head of Belgian Material Resources Public Procurement, was quoted as saying, “This collaboration allows us to develop synergies that optimise the interoperability and support of the SkyGuardian by creating economies of scale for all participants in various domains, such as staff training, certification and development of future capabilities.”

The MQ-9B SkyGuardian will be known as the RG1 Protector in RAF service. Belgium and the UK have undertaken to find synergies in operating their respective MQ-9B fleets. (Image: Crown Copyright)

The UK and Belgium have also established the MQ-9B International Cooperative Programme (MICP). Formed around the MoU, the MICP provides the processes and functionality to co-operate across certification, airworthiness, training, sustainment and capability enhancements.

The MICP Community currently comprises eight nations; Belgium and the UK as the leads with six additional nations as observers: Canada, Denmark, Germany, Greece, Lithuania and Norway.

Membership of the MICP is expected to grow as a number of like-minded nations are considering procurement of the MQ-9B.

Peter Felstead