Eager to build on the interest the SeaGuardian and SkyGuardian has generated in India and other countries in the region, General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc. (GA-ASI) is showcasing the capabilities of its Remotely Piloted Aircraft (RPA) at the ongoing Aero India 2019 in Bangalore.
The company’s display at the event includes imagery of the SeaGuardian, SkyGuardian and a 1/6th scale model of Avenger. There is also an Interactive Touchscreen Demonstration that highlights the company’s products and capabilities in a graphically rich and immersive environment. With the Touchscreen Demo, users learn about GA-ASI’s RPA sensor payloads and mission scenarios, as well as customizable range-ring module that allows a user to see the effective range and endurance of a variety of GA-ASI aircraft over real-world maps, including determining the approximate range and time-on-station (TOS) of aircraft equipped for maritime patrol.
GA-ASI has seen strong demand for the MQ-9B RPA from various militaries. According to reports, India will be the first country to add the SeaGuardian, which is the maritime version of the MQ-9B SkyGuardian, to its arsenal. Other countries in the Asia Pacific are also reportedly eyeing the drone.
In June 2017, the company announced that the U.S. government had approved the sale of 22 unarmed SeaGuardian drones to India. According to a Reuters report in July last year, the U.S. has offered India the armed version of Guardian drones.
MQ-9B is the first remotely piloted aircraft (RPA) that has been developed to fly in civil airspace alongside manned aircraft. Both the MQ-9B variants – the land-based SkyGuardian and the SeaGuardian – retain the best features of the MQ-9A and incorporates many enhancements, all designed to make it a truly multi-mission aircraft and not just a strike drone. The RPA features endurance of more than 40 hours, rapid integration of new payloads using nine hardpoints, all-weather, short-field, self-deployment through SATCOM controlled ATLC, Lynx Multi-mode Radar and a company-developed Detect and Avoid (DAA) system.
The UK Royal Air Force (RAF), which has operated the MQ-9 Reaper RPA over the last ten years, will take delivery of the SKyGuardian, as the Protector RG Mk1, in the early 2020s. In November last year, the Belgium government announced that it had approved the start of negotiations with GA-ASI for the sale of the unmanned aerial vehicle.
In December last year, GA-ASI demonstrated a complete MQ-9B mission without the use of a Launch and Recovery Element (LRE) Ground Control Station (GCS).
Preflight checks were conducted through engine start using only the Expeditionary Command & Control (XC2) portable laptop, and subsequently, the aircraft was successfully handed over to a remote GCS via SATCOM. The MQ-9B was then taxied to the runway and the crew commanded its automatic takeoff using only the SATCOM datalink. The MQ-9B flew a short flight and automatically landed using SATCOM datalink and then taxied back to the chock location via SATCOM taxi. Control of the aircraft was then transferred back to the XC2 portable laptop, which efficiently completed stories-flight procedures through aircraft shutdown.
“Using a portable laptop computer in conjunction with SATCOM taxi and Automatic Takeoff and Landing Capability [ATLC] is a game-changer for our customers,” said David R. Alexander, president, Aircraft Systems, GA-ASI. “Instead of having a forward GCS relying on Line of Sight (LOS) communication, this advanced capability greatly reduces manpower and ensures that the remote pilots can be far away from any potential conflict.”
The XC2 laptop leverages GA-ASI’s Advanced Cockpit developments by porting select capabilities to a ruggedized laptop. Using a laptop, a forward-deployed maintainer can employ automated pre-flight checklists that reduce pre-flight times by up to 50 percent. This capability also reduces the airlift requirements by eliminating the need for a forward-deployed GCS.
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