It is easy to see why General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc’s SeaGuardian, the MQ-9B variant configured for maritime operations, is attracting interest from potential operators in the SE-Asia region.
The MQ-9B is the latest in the line of Medium-Altitude Long-Endurance (MALE) Remotely Piloted Aircraft (RPA) to be developed by GA-ASI to meet the multi-mission requirements of its customers. Equipped with powerful sensors, the MQ-9B SkyGuardian and SeaGuardian can be used for a wide variety of critical missions. The requirement for intelligence – including high-definition, full-motion electro-optical video, mapping radar, signals intelligence, electronic support measures or maritime surveillance sensors – has never been greater. MQ-9B not only has the capability to deliver these functions, but it is also designed to operate even outside military-controlled airspace.
SeaGuardian’s maritime radar kit contains a 360 degree multi-mode maritime radar that’s already been fielded on U.S. Department of Homeland Security on the GA-ASI Predator B aircraft. The same kit can be fitted to the centerline hardpoint and support a host of maritime radars to facilitate long-range surveillance, coastal surveillance, small target detection, and search and rescue operations. Maritime configured aircraft would also be fitted with the Automatic Identification System (AIS) transponder to aid in the positive identification of vessels.
RPAs must be capable of operations in national and international airspace, integrating seamlessly with manned aircraft, as well as the ability to respond to air traffic directions. The MQ-9B is being built to meet multi-national airworthiness engineering and safety standards. A holistic, nose-to-tail approach has created a new generation of RPA that will be prepared for operations within increasingly congested national airspace.
With its long endurance, the SeaGuardian provides persistent ISR at a significantly lower cost when compared to manned aircraft where endurance is typically limited by the onboard crew. The RPA can use its endurance to reach, and loiter in, areas that are far from base, at a fraction of the cost of dispatching a manned aircraft. Both SkyGuardian and SeaGuardian variants can carry a wide variety of sensor payloads providing highly detailed intelligence from a significant standoff range. While the aircraft is being built to meet those pressing operational demands, its further evolution into other missions, and use for training purposes, requires the ability to operate outside of military controlled airspace.
GA-ASI has been at the forefront of RPA airworthiness and certification for more than a decade. Large-scale investment has been made by the company in this area, and several key technologies have been developed, such as the Detect and Avoid (DAA) System and the Due Regard Radar (DRR) within the DAA. MQ-9B uses approved conforming airworthiness materials, like those employed in airliner construction. Overall maintainability is improved, and airframe design life is extended from 20,000 to 40,000 flight hours. Enhanced safety features include better protection against lightning strikes and an improved anti-icing system. MQ-9B also has an Automatic Take-Off and Landing Capability (ATLC), with the option of a back-up conventional manual flight system. The GA-ASI Advanced Cockpit Ground Control Station (GCS) has been modified to meet certification requirements.
In developing the SeaGuardian, GA-ASI improved the performance and capabilities of the baseline air vehicle. Longer span wings fitted with winglets allow nearly 1360kg (3,000 lb.) of additional fuel to be carried internally. Endurance in an ISR configuration rises to more than 40 hours. This increase allows the aircraft to be used in a greater number of roles and to operate in difficult-to-reach regions. The new wings have extra hard points, raising the total number of external stores/payload-carrying stations to nine (four under each wing and one under the centerline). Another external difference is a slightly lengthened fuselage that creates space for the installation of the DRR.