With the Royal Malaysian Air Force (RMAF) expressing an interest in the MQ-9B SeaGuardian and sending a Request for Information (RFI) to General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc (GA-ASI), the California-based UAS manufacturer is focused on providing a ‘system-of-systems’ approach to the RMAF that is highly interoperable within the Malaysian Armed Forces and with key allies.
“The ISR output from the SeaGuardian aircraft can be readily shared with all common-protocol C4ISR systems,” said Terry Kraft, regional vice president of international strategic development for Southeast Asia Pacific at General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc. (GA-ASI). “GA-ASI is also able to offer its System for Tactical Analysis, Retrieval and Exploitation (STARE), which works in conjunction with the Ground Control Station to maximize the intelligence value of information transmitted from the UAS.”
A ground-up redesign of earlier variants, the MQ-9B – the SeaGuardian and the land-based SkyGuardian – are truly multi-mission aircraft and is the only UAS with the capability to operate in unsegregated airspace. The nine external hardpoints of the RPA enable it to be used for a wide variety of critical missions, including environmental protection, maritime domain awareness, search and rescue, as well as military surveillance patrol.
The SeaGuardian, which has SATCOM Auto Take-off and Landing system Capability (ATLC) that helps minimize the aircraft’s launch and recovery footprint, also has 35+ hours endurance and in excess of 5400 NM range in full mission configuration to cover the entire expanse of Malaysia’s territory. The RPA’s sensors include a specialized long-range multi-mode maritime radar and EO/IR system. The aircraft also has anti-ice, de-ice and lightening protection capabilities to minimize lost sorties due to tropical weather.
“SATCOM ATLC is a key feature that enables the aircraft to be operated untethered from the Ground Control Station or by using a laptop computer, giving it virtually unlimited runways to take-off and land in Malaysia,” said Kraft.
The SeaGuardian has a fully certifiable design, including for the Ground Control Station. This, when combined with a Detect and Avoid (DAA) system, offers the potential to operate the MQ-9B in all classes or airspace.
According to GA-ASI officials, the SeaGuardian presents a far more cost-effective solution for the RMAF as its operating and support costs are a fraction of that of a manned maritime patrol aircraft (MPA). The RPA can also be used to complement a manned MPA, and will undertake the dull, dirty and dangerous roles, keeping aircrew away from risk, while the MPA is retained for focused tasks. Enhancing its appeal is the act that the SeaGuardian also has the ability to seamlessly share information with other platforms, including the MPA.
GA-ASI, a pioneer in SATCOM Beyond Line-of-Sight (BLOS) operation for UAS, has 20 years of experience employing its UAS with the capability. According to Kraft, the flexibility of employment and range BLOS SATCOM provides will give Malaysia the ability to protect its vast territory while operating in a SATCOM environment.
It is not just Malaysia that is excited about the SeaGuardian’s ability to provide persistent maritime ISR. Discussions between the U.S. and India on the potential sale of 22 SeaGuardian drones, which began in 2017, are in the final stages. The MQ-9B is the first remotely piloted aircraft (RPA) that is being developed to fly in civil airspace alongside manned aircraft and is much more than a strike drone, but those are not the only reasons why it has evoked great interest among militaries in the Asia Pacific and MENA regions.
“SeaGuardian has generated considerable interest with international customers; there are multiple nations in the Asia Pacific region that are seriously considering the RPA,” said Kraft. “Many partner nations view the certifiability of the MQ-9B as the new benchmark for UAS systems.”
GA-ASI aircraft operate at more than 50 sites worldwide, including for many overseas customers. The company has produced over 850 UAS, and its aircraft have accumulated over 5.5 million flight hours. The company also has considerable experience in tailoring training, operations and support to meet overseas customer requirements.
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