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General Atomics Aeronautical Systems (GA-ASI) hosted an industry showcase on 24 January to recognise British companies contributing to operational systems such as the MQ-9 REAPER, MQ-1C GRAY EAGLE and the new MQ-9B SkyGuardian programme. The Royal Air Force (RAF) MQ-9B variant is known as PROTECTOR RG Mk1.

The showcase featured contract signings with MBDA and Raytheon UK to integrate UK weapons (BRIMSTONE and PAVEWAY) onto the PROTECTOR RG Mk1, and a new Memorandum of Agreement with BAE Systems to collaborate on integration of unmanned systems into UK national airspace.

The following UK partners attended the showcase:
· Abaco Systems – Provides a DO-178 and DO-254 compliant computer that processes flight critical functions for the MQ-9B Ground Control Station (GCS)
· BAE Systems – Will support development of Concepts of Operations (CONOPS) for PROTECTOR operations in UK national airspace
· CAE – Will develop a comprehensive synthetic training system for PROTECTOR RG Mk1 flight crews
· Cobham Aviation Services, UK – Provides ongoing logistics and maintenance services for the RAF REAPER fleet
· Cosworth – Provides engine development and manufacturing services for GA-ASI’s MQ-1C GRAY EAGLE, operated by the US Army
· Daco Hand Controllers – Supplies pilot Stick and Throttle hand-controllers for the GCS, as well as a specially designed hand controller that aids in target tracking
· Defence Electronics & Component Agency (DECA) – This UK Ministry of Defence Agency provides maintenance, repair, overhaul (MRO), upgrade and managed services in support of Defence
· GKN Aerospace – Supplies MQ-9 landing gear and fuel bladders, and is an approved supplier of carbon-composite tail structures
· Leonardo – Supports integration of its SEASPRAY maritime, surface-search radar and SAGE electronic support measures (ESM) sensor on MQ-9B
· MBDA – Supplies the BRIMSTONE missile for PROTECTOR
· Raytheon UK – Supplies the PAVEWAY IV precision-guided munition for PROTECTOR
· Ultra Electronics Command & Sonar Systems – Provides miniaturised sonobuoys suitable for MQ-9B

We have been working with our UK teammates, in some cases for many years already, to make the RAF’s procurement of PROTECTOR a significant success [….] PROTECTOR will be an example for other allied nations to follow, thereby creating more opportunities for UK aerospace industry,” commented GA-ASI CEO, Linden Blue.

MQ-9B is the result of a five-year, GA-ASI-funded effort to deliver an unmanned aircraft that is safe to fly in non-segregated airspace, due to its compliance with the stringent airworthiness requirements of NATO STANAG 4671. The platform features endurance of more than 40 hours, rapid integration of new payloads, nine wing hardpoints, all-weather capability with lightning protection and de-ice systems, ‘self-deployment’ using SATCOM-commanded Automatic Takeoff and Landing, LYNX Multi-mode Radar, large-aperture EO/IR HD-video sensor, and a Detect and Avoid (DAA) system for collision-avoidance. GA-ASI designed MQ-9B as the next generation of its multi-mission PREDATOR B fleet, naming its baseline MQ-9B aircraft SkyGuardian and the maritime surveillance variant SeaGuardian.

In July 2018, SkyGuardian became the first Medium-altitude, Long-endurance (MALE) RPA to fly non-stop across the Atlantic Ocean.

PROTECTOR will replace the RAF’s fleet of REAPER armed UAS, which have been flying in RAF operations since 2007. (Photo via Wikipedia Commons)

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