Print Friendly, PDF & Email

A General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc (GA-ASI) Mojave has become the largest uncrewed aerial vehicle (UAV) ever to be launched from a UK Royal Navy aircraft carrier.

Controlled from aboard the carrier, the Mojave took off from the deck of the carrier HMS Prince of Wales on 15 November 2023 while the ship was on exercise off the US East Coast. It then flew circuits and approaches before eventually landing back onto the carrier.

The GA-ASI Mojave – which is 9 m long, has a wingspan of 17 m and weighs more than 1.5 tonnes when fully loaded – is a short take-off and landing (STOL) UAV demonstrator originally developed to prove STOL operations at unprepared landing sites

While the Mojave shares common systems and components with GA-ASI’s MQ-1C Gray Eagle UAV, a STOL wing-set option is being planned for GA-ASI’s larger, more capable MQ-9B aircraft, which – as well as the SkyGuardian and SeaGuardian UAVs — includes the new Protector RG Mk 1 currently being delivered to the UK Royal Air Force (RAF) for entry into service next year. An MQ-9B STOL variant is being considered by the Royal Navy and other navies that operate aircraft from large flat-deck warships without catapults and arresting gear.

“The Mojave trial is a European first – the first time that a remotely piloted air system of this size has operated to and from an aircraft carrier outside of the United States,” said Rear Admiral James Parkin, Royal Navy Director Develop, whose team planned the trial. “The success of this trial heralds a new dawn in how we conduct maritime aviation and is another exciting step in the evolution of the Royal Navy’s carrier strike group into a mixed crewed and uncrewed fighting force.”

Months of planning by experts from the Royal Navy, GA-ASI and HMS Prince of Wales’ crew went into the trial: one of several involving UAVs and F-35 Joint Strike Fighters this autumn to push the boundaries of operations involving the UK’s two Queen Elizabeth-class carriers.

“My team and I are excited and proud to be the first to launch and land a Mojave from an aircraft carrier,” said Commander Martin Russell, in charge of air operations aboard HMS Prince of Wales. “During a deployment centred around experimentation and expanding the envelope of the Queen Elizabeth class, this is one of the highlights.

“Integrating the Navy Develop and General Atomics personnel into the Prince of Wales team was key to enabling such a large remotely piloted air system to operate from the deck during this trial, with the capability feeling like a glimpse into the future of these ships.”

HMS Prince of Wales is currently conducting intense training and trials activity with the US Marine Corps before returning home to Portsmouth in December.

A GA-ASI Mojave became the largest UAV ever launched from a UK Royal Navy aircraft carrier on 15 November 2023. (Photo: GA-ASI)

Meanwhile, an RAF Protector RG Mk 1 took to the UK skies for the first time in a flight out of RAF Waddington on 17 November. In flying a series of circuits around RAF Waddington, it became the largest and most advanced UAV flown in UK airspace.

The first of 16 Protectors procured for RAF service, the UAV arrived at the Lincolnshire air base in September and is undergoing a series of rigorous trials and tests before entering the RAF fleet.

Group Captain Al Rutledge, RAF Programme Director for Protector, was quoted in a UK Ministry of Defence press release as saying, “Achieving the first flight of Protector in UK airspace is a fitting milestone for this phase of testing, representing an outstanding team effort. We will now build on this success and look forward to the next test and evaluation phase as part of our preparations for in-service date later next year.”

The other 15 Protectors are arriving in a phased delivery over the coming years, with all aircraft expected to be delivered and in service by July 2025.