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A General Atomics Aeronautical Systems (GA-ASI) MQ-9A Block 5 remotely-piloted aircraft (RPA) equipped with a newly developed Centreline Avionics Bay (CAB) flew for the first time on 3 February, the company announced on 24 February. The CAB provides space to incorporate critical new capabilities for GA-ASI customers.

Integration of the CAB began as GA-ASI needed space for new avionics on the MQ-9A, including company-developed detect and avoid (DAA) systems. In addition to the DAA system, GA-ASI will use the new avionics bay to pioneer artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) applications and establish an Ethernet network with the outer wing stations, to enable government open mission systems (OMS) protocols for rapid, flexible, and affordable integration of new mission capabilities. These upgrades will further expand an already broad menu of roles for the MQ-9A.

The [CAB] was purpose-built to provide additional volume, platform infrastructure, and cooling provisions for integrating high performance computing (HPC) systems on MQ-9 Block 1 and Block 5 RPA,” explained GA-ASI VP of Strategic Development, J R Reid. “The CAB will enable the MQ-9 to host government OMS-compliant autonomy, machine learning and, eventually, artificial intelligence algorithms and applications. In addition to the HPC, we can work with customers on a broad range of capabilities with the additional space we get with the CAB.”

One example of a customer application for the CAB is the US Air National Guard’s GHOST REAPER concept, which establishes the MQ-9A as a critical, multi-source correlation engine in a contested fight. The capabilities being developed and integrated onto MQ-9A will also become the catalyst for the Joint All-Domain Command and Control (JADC2) construct.

Additional space and integration infrastructure will enhance the potential contribution the MQ-9A can make to a broad spectrum of operational applications. (Photo: GA-ASI)

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