Belgium has signed a foreign military sales (FMS) contract to acquire four General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc (GA-ASI) MQ-9B SkyGuardian unmanned systems.
The US$188.8m (A$261m) acquisition – which was signed on August 14 – includes the air vehicles, two certifiable ground control stations (GCS), spares, and support equipment. The sale comes after an April 2019 Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA) notification which has flagged a spend of up to US$600m (A$828m) which also included sensors and a five year support package.
The certifiable MQ-9B has been developed by GA-ASI to be able to operate in controlled airspace, and features longer range and greater endurance compared to the USAF’s MQ-9A Reaper Block 5 upon which it is based.
The Belgian announcement was quickly followed by the signing of a bilateral statement of intent (SOI) by the air force chiefs of Belgium and the UK to collaborate on their respective MQ-9B programs, to be known as the Protector RG Mk1 in RAF service.
“This Statement of Intent between the UK and Belgium reflects our shared ambition for Protector, the MQ-9B Remotely Piloted Aircraft System, working in partnership to tackle threats to our national and collective security RAF Chief of the Air Staff, Air Chief Marshal Mike Wigston said in a statement. “The Royal Air Force and Belgian Air Force will explore opportunities to train, maintain and work together on this game changing aircraft using its cutting-edge sensors and systems to protect national, NATO and European security.”
Belgium’s Major General Frederik Vansina added, “As the second Air Force acquiring this system, we are proud to join the UK in setting the first milestones towards interoperability between both our systems. Both our nations see great opportunity in developing strategic partnership and in doing so we will tackle shared challenges with greater strength on top of streamlining our Forces’ interoperability in employing this state-of-the-art asset.
“As other NATO Air Force’s join the United Kingdom and Belgium in acquiring this cutting-edge capability, which we will seamlessly integrate into densely navigated airspaces around the globe, I’m proud to announce today’s signing of our bi-national Statement of Intent. This is a first and important step toward the foundation of a reliable partnership between our Air Force’s involving key aspects in the development of this novel system.”
The Royal Australian Air Force selected the SkyGuardian – previously marketed as the Certified Predator B – in November 2019 to fulfil its Project AIR 7003 armed UAS requirement, and is expected to go to contract (page 26) in 2021 for the first deliveries of 12 systems in 2024 or 2025.
The first production representative SkyGuardian was rolled out in April 2020, and will be used to conduct flight tests to validate the certified status of the system, and the various sensor fits for customer air forces.