General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc (GA-ASI) announced on March 6 that it will provide three MQ-9B SkyGuardian remotely piloted aircraft systems (RPAS) to US Air Force Special Operations Command (AFSOC), making it the first US customer to acquire the type.
AFSOC is the fourth operator to acquire the SkyGuardian after the Royal Air Force (which will operate the MQ-9B under the Protector RG1 designation), the Belgian Air Force and the Japan Coast Guard. This procurement comes after AFSOC has spent more than 14 years operating the SkyGuardian’s predecessor, the MQ-9A Reaper, with over 40 aircraft being flown in harsh environments around the world.
When operational, the three MQ-9Bs will play a key role in the development of AFSOC’s new Adaptive Airborne Enterprise (A2E) concept, which envisions the use of a family of large unmanned aerial systems (UAS) and smaller, more expendable UAS platforms to project airpower for US special operations forces from beyond-the-horizon in both permissive and denied environments.
Commenting on the deal, David R Alexander – president of GA-ASI – said: “We’re very excited to continue our great partnership with AFSOC well into the future. MQ-9B is the ideal platform for inserting air-launched effects into potentially hostile environments. The MQ-9B’s combination of range, endurance, reduced manpower footprint, and overall flexibility will make it a true centrepiece of AFSOC’s future family of advanced UAS systems.”
Capable of supporting a variety of mission sets, ranging from intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) to search and rescue (SAR) and defensive counter-air (DCA) operations, the MQ-9B is equipped with the GA-ASI-developed Detect and Avoid System, allowing the platform to detect and evade other aircraft and enabling it to safely operate in both contested and civil airspace. It boasts an airborne endurance of up to 40 hours, a maximum payload capacity of 4,750lb (2,155kg) and is equipped with nine hardpoints (eight on the wing and one on the centreline fuselage).