General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc (GA-ASI) has conducted a flight and capability demonstration of its MQ-9B SkyGuardian unmanned system, the basis of the UK’s Protector RG Mk1 system, and an option for Australia’s AIR 7003 armed unmanned system requirement.
The demonstration was attended by RAF senior leadership and Reaper operators, as well as RAAF and US Marine Corps observers, and was conducted at the Yuma Proving Ground in Arizona. It showed off new capabilities including the new Certifiable Ground Control Station (CGCS), automatic takeoff, landing and taxi over SATCOM, Portable Pre/Post-Flight Equipment (P3E), and the Mission Intelligence Center.
It also demonstrated its ability to self-deploy by flying from Yuma to an undisclosed base in Nevada through controlled airspace, and by conducting an automatic takeoff, landing, and taxi at its destination via SATCOM data link from Yuma.
“This demonstration was a complete success and has really built our anticipation and excitement about our new Protector RPA to a whole new level,” RAF Protector RG Mk1 Programme Director GpCapt Lyndon Jones said in a statement. “We witnessed some exciting technologies as part of the demonstration and we’re looking forward to incorporating these innovations into our fleet when we begin taking delivery of Protector in the early 2020s.”
GA-ASI president, David R. Alexander added, “This flight demonstrated the full global expeditionary capabilities that the Protector will have when it joins the RAF fleet. In addition to RAF’s mission sets, the aircraft’s ability to fly seamlessly in civil airspace will allow it to support domestic emergencies such as fire, flood, and security related missions.”
The SkyGuardian is based on the MQ-9 Reaper Block 5, but features a due-regard radar, the new ground station, and other capabilities which allow it to be certified to operate in controlled airspace, as well as a longer wingspan with winglets.
ADBR understands the MQ-9B SkyGuardian is favoured for Australia’s Project AIR 7003 over its Reaper stablemate, and that an announcement is imminent.