The US Air Force Special Operations Command (AFSOC) has ordered three MQ-9B SkyGuardian drones from General Atomics.
The acquisition makes the service the first US customer of the sophisticated unmanned system.
The US military is a known operator of the MQ-9A Reaper, which has supported its missions in harsh environments for more than 14 years.
Acquiring the new MQ-9 variant supports the Adaptive Airborne Enterprise concept envisioning AFSOC projecting air power from beyond the horizon.
The remotely piloted aircraft systems will be used alongside large and small drones to operate from permissive to denied environments.
General Atomics president David R. Alexander stated that the SkyGuardian is the ideal platform for inserting air-launched effects into potentially hostile environments.
“We’re very excited to continue our great partnership with AFSOC well into the future,” he said. “The MQ-9B’s combination of range, endurance, reduced manpower footprint, and overall flexibility will make it a true centerpiece of AFSOC’s future family of advanced UAS systems.”
General Atomics’ MQ-9B SkyGuardian is a “next generation” remotely piloted aircraft system that delivers persistent intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance worldwide.
It is designed to fly over the horizon via satellite for 40 hours in all weather conditions.
The drone has the revolutionary Lynx Multi-mode Radar and an advanced electro-optical/infrared sensor.
It can also perform automatic takeoff and landing and reaches altitudes of up to 40,000 feet (12.2 kilometers).
According to the company, the SkyGuardian can be safely integrated into civil airspace to deliver real-time situational awareness anywhere in the world.
Beyond surveillance, the drone can support search and rescue, electronic warfare, anti-surface warfare, and airborne mine countermeasures missions.