Australia Down-Selects MQ-9B SkyGuardian for $1.3 Billion Armed RPAS Acquisition Program

The Australian Government down-selected General Atomics MQ-9B SkyGuardian for its $1.3 billion program to deliver a cutting-edge armed remotely-piloted aircraft system (RPAS) for the Australian Defence Force (ADF).

MQ-9B SkyGuardian is a variant of the MQ-9A Reaper/Predator B RPA developed by American company General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc. (GA-ASI) in order to make it compliant with flight regulations for operation within civilian airspace. The aircraft was previously called Certifiable Predator B.

In November last year, the Australian Government named GA-ASI to provide the Armed RPA system under Project Air 7003, with either the MQ-9A or the advanced MQ-9B to be selected later. The next phase of the program will focus on developing the MQ-9B acquisition proposal, which is scheduled for government consideration in 2021-22. The ADF expects to take first delivery in the early 2020s.

Minister for Defence Linda Reynolds said this project will deliver Australia’s first armed Medium Altitude Long Endurance (MALE) Remotely Piloted Aircraft System.

“Cutting-edge technology of this kind, with advanced sensors and systems, would complement advanced aircraft such as the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter and ensure that Australian Defence Force maintains state-of-the-art capability,” Minister Reynolds said.

Minister for Defence Industry Melissa Price encouraged Australian industry to become involved in this billion-dollar project.

“Local companies that provide a range of innovative sensor, communication, manufacturing and life-cycle support capabilities will have the opportunity to showcase their capabilities throughout this development process,” Minister Price said. “Australian defence industries are world-class and are extremely well-placed to be involved in projects like this.”

GA-ASI announced its intention to offer a MALE RPAS to the ADF during AVALON 2017 with the launch of Team Reaper Australia, a robust group of Australian industry partners. The team currently consists of ten world-class Australian companies providing a range of innovative sensor, communication, manufacturing and life-cycle support capabilities including Cobham (lead industry partner), CAE, Raytheon, Flight Data Systems, TAE Aerospace, Quickstep, AirSpeed, Collins Aerospace, Ultra, and SentientVision.

The MQ-9B was built from the ground up to meet global airworthiness standards including NATO STANAG 4671 airworthiness requirements. Both hardware and software upgrades were made, such as improved structural fatigue and damage tolerance and more robust flight control software, as well as enhancements allowing operations in adverse weather including icing conditions. Additionally, the aircraft was designed to survive bird and lightning strikes.

MQ-9B is highly modular and is easily configured with a variety of payloads to meet mission requirements. The aircraft is capable of carrying multiple mission payloads and includes a state-of-the-art Detect and Avoid (DAA) system including space, weight, and power provisions to enable the retrofitting of an airborne Due Regard Radar (DRR) for operation in non-cooperative airspace. The RPAS system also includes a completely redesigned & modernized integrated ground control station with 4 crew stations.

The weaponized version of the SkyGuardian will be able to carry precision-guided munitions (PGMs) and air-to-ground missiles (AGMs). The SeaGuardian is a proposed version of SkyGuardian but also fitted with Multimode 360 Maritime Surface Search Radar and Automatic identification system (AIS).

The UK Royal Air Force (RAF) is acquiring the MQ-9B as part of its Protector RG Mk1 program and is scheduled for first delivery in the early 2020s. The Government of Belgium has approved Belgian Defense to negotiate for the acquisition of MQ-9B to meet the nation’s RPA requirements.

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