U.S. Remotely Piloted Aircraft (RPA) maker General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc. (GA-ASI) is pursuing several programmes in the Asia-Pacific and Southeast Asia regions. SeaGuardian, Gray Eagle Extended Range and Predator XP are some of options that the company has offered for countries in Southeast Asia. Warren Ludwig, GA-ASI Director of International Strategic Development for Australia, New Zealand and South-East Asia, tells Daily News about the company’s plans for the region as well as its array of products. Ludwig is attending DSA Malaysia, where GA-ASI is exhibiting in booth #10500 in the U.S. Pavilion.
Please give us a company overview of General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc. (GA-ASI)?
GA-ASI is the global leader in RPA, with more than 800 aircraft produced for customers around the world that have flown for 5 million flight hours. We also design and manufacture radars, and electro-optic and related mission systems, including the Lynx multi-mode Radar. We’ve been in business for 25 years providing long-endurance, mission-capable unmanned aircraft with integrated sensor and data link systems. We also produce a variety of Ground Control Stations and sensor control/image analysis software, as well as offering pilot training at our Grand Forks, North Dakota Flight Test and Training Center, and a range of other support services.
What programmes are GA-ASI pursuing in the Asia-Pacific and Southeast Asia regions?
There are a range of programmes in Southeast Asia, which are largely focused on maritime domain awareness, so our Predator XP or SeaGuardian make sense. In East Asia, GA-ASI is pursuing a range of programmes that span all environmental domains, and our offerings include SeaGuardian and Gray Eagle Extended Range. We’ve offered our MQ-9 and MQ-9B as solutions to Australia’s Air 7003 program for an armed RPA. GA-ASI is offering the SeaGuardian for New Zealand’s Future Air Surveillance Capability. Finally, for India, our SeaGuardian is the right solution to meet their maritime domain awareness needs.
Besides already being approved for export, what are the key features of the Predator XP?
The Predator XP key attribute its Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) capability, aided by endurance that exceeds 35 consecutive hours and it can ascend to 25,000 feet. It’s designed with state-of-the-art technologies, including Automatic Takeoff and Landing Capability (ATLC), enhanced avionics, triple-redundant flight control computers, high-definition Electro-Optical Infrared (EO/IR) camera sensor, and a wide-area search radar system for both overland and maritime surveillance. The aircraft is also equipped with both Line-of-Sight (LOS) and Beyond Line-of-Sight (BLOS) data link systems for over-the-horizon operations.
GA-ASI produces a broad line of RPAs. What are some of the common platform characteristics?
Our RPA share many attributes with manned aircraft, but a key differentiator with our platforms is persistence. Some of our aircraft can remain airborne for up to 42 hours – continuously performing ISR and collecting data – without needing to refuel. This record-setting endurance offers the potential to save lives through extended surveillance, and the ability to self-transit to other remote, and distant locations. We do this while still designing the aircraft to carry a range of important payloads. We’re also focused on safety and reliability. You see that in our efforts to mature our RPA systems, improve designs and manufacturing processes, and enhance human-machine interface. We’re now designing our aircraft with certification and airworthiness in mind, so we’re meeting and even exceeding the reliability standards for manned aircraft, which includes fault-tolerant control systems and triple redundant avionics system architecture.
Do you see any non-military applications for GA-ASI aircraft?
Our aircraft are being used for several non-military applications, including law enforcement, border patrol, fire detection, maritime patrol, and resource monitoring. Just recently, parts of the United States were devastated by hurricanes, floods and forest fires, and our aircraft were part of the recovery efforts by giving authorities ‘eyes in the sky’ where they could see and evaluate impacted areas, and then help decision-makers dispatch appropriate and timely resources to the hardest hit areas.
Is it difficult to get a RPA approved to fly in civilian airspace?
We had to fundamentally rethink the many aspects of our RPA design to enable both its airworthiness and gaining routine access to non-segregated airspace. The resulting RPA system, called MQ-9B SkyGuardian, forms the basis for the United Kingdom’s Royal Air Force’s (RAF) PROTECTOR program and will be certified to NATO standards (STANAG 4671). GA-ASI is the only RPA-producing company that’s taking on this certification initiative in a wholesale way. Other enhancements enable operations in adverse weather, including icing conditions, and it’s designed to survive bird and lightning strikes. We also added a Detect and Avoid system that provides collision avoidance and detection that is key to earning airworthiness certification.