The UK and Belgium revealed they are exploring General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc (GA-ASI) MQ-9B SkyGuardian remotely piloted aircraft system (RPAS) collaboration on August 17, the same week as Belgium announced its SkyGuardian contract.
The first of Belgium’s four SkyGuardians will be delivered in 2023. SkyGuardian can perform border patrol, fire detection and firefighting support, and resource monitoring missions. For the UK and Belgium, the MQ-9B has been designed to meet NATO’s airworthiness type-certification standard, STANAG 4671, for its operation in civil airspace. The UK calls the SkyGuardian, the Protector RG Mk1. The UK contract for three Protectors, with an option for 13 more, was announced in July. The UK, Belgium collaboration is a bilateral statement of intent about training, maintenance, logistic support and capability enhancement.
“As the second air force acquiring this system, we are proud to join the United Kingdom in setting the first milestones towards interoperability between both our systems,” Commander of the Belgian Air Component, Maj General Frederik Vansina, said. “As other NATO air force’s join the United Kingdom and Belgium in acquiring this cutting-edge capability…we will seamlessly integrate [it] into densely navigated airspaces around the globe.”
The Belgium SkyGuardian contract covers the design, development, integration and production of the RPAS along with its sensor payloads. They include electro-optical and infra-red video, synthetic aperture radar and ground moving target indicator surveillance. The contract also includes ground control stations, ground support equipment and spares.
The first UK Protector RG Mk1 will be delivered next year. It differs from the SkyGuardian because it has X-band satellite communications and UK weapons. SkyGuardian was also selected by the Australian Defence Force under its Project Air 7003. General Atomics’ MQ-9B has a detect and avoid system for civil airspace operations and it is built for all-weather performance with lightning protection, a damage tolerant airframe, and a de-icing system.