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General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc (GA-ASI) has signed a contract with the MoD in London to cover manufacture and delivery of PROTECTOR RG Mk1 remotely piloted air systems (RPAS).

The company’s MQ-9B SkyGuardian provides the baseline system that will become the PROTECTOR RG Mk1 when configured for the RAF with X-band SATCOM and British weapon systems. The contract covers a total of 16 aircraft (initial order of three platforms with an option for an additional 13) and seven ground control stations (GCS), together with associated ground support equipment. The first system will be delivered in 2021, though it will remain in the US to be used in the test and evaluation programme.

PROTECTOR will be deployed in wide-ranging Intelligence, Surveillance, Target Acquisition and Reconnaissance (ISTAR) operations where its ability to fly consistently for up to 40 hours will offer a vastly improved ISTAR capability. Given that it is designed to fly in non-segregated, civil airspace, the PROTECTOR RPAS will also be able to support multiple civilian missions, including search and rescue and disaster response missions,” said Gp Capt Shaun Gee, RAF Director Air ISTAR Programmes.

GA-ASI’s development of MQ-9B began in 2014 as a company-funded programme to deliver an RPA that meets the stringent STANAG-4671 UAV System Airworthiness Requirements, which provide the basis for type certification by NATO member-state military airworthiness authorities. The MQ-9B is provisioned for the GA-ASI-developed detect and avoid system (DAAS) and is built for adverse weather performance with lightning protection, damage tolerance and de-icing system. It features rapid integration of new payloads with nine hard points. The aircraft can self-deploy using SATCOM-enabled automatic takeoff and landing, which eliminates forward-based launch-and-recovery equipment and personnel. In addition to the SkyGuardian, MQ-9B is also available as the SeaGuardian for maritime missions.

“This is a major milestone for the MQ-9B system and the PROTECTOR program,” commented Linden Blue, GA-ASI CEO.

The MQ-9B has also been selected by Australia and the Belgian defence authorities are negotiating potential acquisition. (Image: GA-ASI)

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