The United Kingdom will get its first look at the SkyGuardian drone in July when a prototype of the multi-mission Predator B aircraft will provide a series of capability demonstrations for the Royal Air Force (RAF) and other NATO allies.
Built by General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc. (GA‑ASI), the MQ-9B SkyGuardian will display its maritime capability including how it can be integrated with other air, surface, and land platforms.
The MQ-9B is the baseline system set to become the Protector RG Mk1 when customized for the RAF. Last year, the UK Ministry of Defence signed a 65 million pound ($89 million) contract with GA-ASI for manufacture and delivery of 16 Protector RG Mk1s.
This summer personnel at @RAFWaddington will receive a glimpse of the future when a SkyGuardian aircraft, a pre-production example of the new Protector Remotely Piloted Aircraft System (RPAS), will operate from the Lincolnshire station.
— Royal Air Force (@RoyalAirForce) February 3, 2021
The British version of the SkyGuardian comes with a multi-mode maritime surface search radar, Automatic Identification System Receiver, and a premium quality video sensor equipped with infrared cameras.
GA‑ASI will deploy the SkyGuardian from RAF Waddington in Lincolnshire. The arrival comes three years after the company flew an MQ-9B for the aircraft’s first-ever transatlantic journey before appearing at the Royal International Air Tattoo at RAF, Fairford. Ever since, there have been maritime demonstrations in Greece and validation flights in Japan.
The company is working closely with other European allies to “demonstrate the capabilities of MQ-9B and how the aircraft can complement and team within a networked environment with other national assets,” GA-ASI vice president of International Strategic Development Tommy Dunehew said.
Compared to the MQ-9 Reaper, widely deployed in Afghanistan and the Middle East, the MQ-9B will be able to fly in unsegregated civilian airspace due to its design-assurance level compliant with international type-certification standards.
GA-ASI said that development of the new MQ-9B began in response to the requirement for a drone that could meet the requirements of various military and civil authorities. The outcome was a generation of aircraft which has a “demonstrated airborne endurance of more than 40 hours, automatic takeoffs and landings under SATCOM-only control and the Detect and Avoid system.”
It can endure the harshest of weather conditions and is built with lightning protection, damage tolerance, and a de-icing system.
The Australian Defence Force, Belgian Armed Forces, and other civil and military customers around the world have also expressed interest in procuring the MQ-9B, GA-ASI said.
The British version of the new MQ-9B SkyGuardian is scheduled to achieve initial operating capability in 2023.