After the excitement of last week’s transatlantic flight by the MQ-9B Sky Guardian unmanned aerial system (UAS), Tuesday's media briefing at Farnborough 2018 by General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc (GA-ASI) was a low-key affair. But it served to emphasize the expanding possibilities for adding non-U.S. systems to the latest version of the famous MQ-9 series of UASs, as GA-ASI seeks more international customers. Coincidentally, GA-ASI announced that the Netherlands had confirmed a long-expected order for four MQ-9 Reapers, thus becoming the fifth European operator.
Officials from five European companies sat alongside GA-ASI president Dave Alexander to explain their ambitions. Alastair Morrison, deputy managing director of Leonardo UK, said that the SAGE electronic intelligence and warning sensor could become a standard fit, as GA-ASI seeks more customers for the MQ-9B. The two companies have just agreed to integrate SAGE, which needs no external pod.
Leonardo is also proposing the BriteCloud active decoy, an infrared countermeasures system, and an infrared search and track system. Morrison noted that Leonardo’s SeaSpray maritime radar had been test-flown on the Reaper six years ago, and was now much improved. A land surveillance radar was also available from the Anglo-Italian company.
James Allibone from MBDA UK noted that the Brimstone dual-mode weapon would be carried by the MQ-9Bs to be operated by the Royal Air Force (RAF), which is the launch customer and which has named the aircraft the "Protector." Dean Mason from Raytheon UK noted that the ever-improving Paveway IV would be the other precision-guided weapon option on the RAF’s aircraft.
Roland Aarts from GKN Aerospace’s Fokker business noted that his company was now producing landing gear for GA-ASI. Meanwhile, John Corner of Cobham explained his company’s role as GA-ASI’s UK representatives and that in support of the RAF’s current MQ-9 Reaper operation.
Wing Commander Neil Towers, the RAF Protector program manager, looked forward to the certification that will enable the UAS to fly in non-segregated airspace. He confirmed that the new UASs will operate from RAF Waddington near Lincoln from the outset, although initially in segregated airspace until GA-ASI’s sense-and-avoid radar is added. He predicted various new roles for the Protector, such as search-and-rescue, domestic counter-terrorism, and other policing tasks.
GA-ASI also announced here that the MQ-9B will be able to use the European Galileo satellite navigation system, as well as the U.S. GPS. This would increase flexibility, especially if connectivity to one system is lost or denied, said Alexander.