The appearance of the marinized variant of the General Atomics MQ-9 Predator B at the recent Paris Air Show heralds an export drive for the UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle) to European NATO countries, as well as Australia, Japan and other prospects. The aircraft at Paris belonged to U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), which has named it the Guardian. Of eight Predator Bs delivered to the CBP, two are in the Guardian configuration, and two more are on order.
The Guardian has a belly-mounted Raytheon SeaVue XMC multimode surveillance radar, Raytheon MTS-B electro-optical/infrared video sensor and an Automatic Identification System (AIS) receiver. AIS is a maritime equivalent to the air IFF (identification, friend-or-foe) system. SeaVue is a mechanically scanned, X-band sensor. XMC stands for “eXpanded Mission Capability,” a software upgrade that enhances small-target detection and tracking in high sea states, according to Raytheon.
The CBP was the first to deploy the SeaVue XMC capability, completing flight trials in May 2010. The radar is fitted on the agency’s Bombardier DHC-8 and P-3 Orion aircraft, as well as the Guardian. The U.S. Navy also uses the radar on a classified platform. The CBP deploys its aircraft “to drug source and transit zones to support joint counter-narcotics operations,” it says.
In 2008, the marinized version of the Predator B was unsuccessfully bid for the U.S. Navy Broad Area Maritime Surveillance (BAMS) requirement. Northrop Grumman won that contest with a version of the Global Hawk, and it has also identified Australia and Japan as potential customers. Meanwhile, a General Atomics spokesperson told AIN that the UAE could be the first customer for the Predator XP, the export version of the smaller Predator A UAV. This is fitted with the General Atomics Lynx multimode ground radar and a FLIR Systems EO/IR sensor, but has no hard points for weapons. Egypt and Saudi Arabia are also prospects for this version, together with countries in Latin America.