General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc. (GA‑ASI) announced its plan to take a company-owned SkyGuardian Remotely Piloted Aircraft to the United Kingdom later this year to undertake a series of operational capability demonstrations for NATO allies, including the Netherlands.

This summer personnel at RAF Waddington will receive a glimpse of the future when a SkyGuardian aircraft will operate from the Lincolnshire station.

The UK’s Protector program is a derivative of SkyGuardian with a range of UK modifications and the Royal Air Force (RAF) is supporting this visit. Protector is an advanced, medium altitude long endurance (MALE) RPAS procured to replace the RAF’s Reaper. It will bring enhanced armed Intelligence, Surveillance, Targeting and Reconnaissance (ISTAR) capability, including extended range, increased payload and planned integration of UK weapons.

The UK has ordered the first three Protector RG Mk 1 systems (three aircraft, three ground control stations and supporting equipment) as the first phase of the acquisition, with the additional 13 aircraft, four ground control stations and support equipment expected this year.

Operating in the UK will assist in the development of the revolutionary Detect and Avoid technology which will permit Protector to fly in all UK airspace safely. It will also allow the RAF to refine the requirements needed to fully integrate Protector operations into Waddington where the RPAS will operate alongside the based fixed wing aircraft.

“The return of SkyGuardian, which will be known as Protector in RAF service in 2023, to the UK this summer offers an exciting glimpse of the future. Protector will be able to fly for up to 40 hours in civil airspace, meaning it will be able to deliver an array of military or civil support missions”

Air Commodore Richard Barrow ACOS Capability C2ISR

The GA-ASI 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, and 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 will work closely with multiple European allies to demonstrate the capabilities of MQ-9B, including in the maritime environment, and how MQ-9B can complement and team within a networked environment with other national assets,” said Tommy Dunehew, vice president of International Strategic Development for GA-ASI.

The series of civilian and military capability events is expected to kick off in July at the Royal Air Force’s Waddington Air Base 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.

MQ-9B represents the next generation of RPA system having 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.

MQ-9B has garnered significant interest from customers throughout the world. The UK Ministry of Defence selected MQ-9B SkyGuardian for its Protector program, and in 2020 signed the production contract for deliveries to the Royal Air Force. SkyGuardian was selected by the Australian Defence Force under Project Air 7003, and the Belgian Ministry of Defense signed a contract for SkyGuardian.

SkyGuardian will arrive at RAF Waddington in July.

Sources: Press Releases

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