The UK and Belgium have agreed a Bilateral Statement of Intent (SoI) to explore collaboration on the MQ-9B Remotely Piloted Aircraft System (RPAS) which both nations are acquiring.
The SoI was signed by Air Chief Marshal Mike Wigston, Chief of the Air Staff, and Major General Frederik Vansina, Commander of the Belgian Air Component. Both parties will now focus on opportunities to work together on training, maintenance, logistic support, interoperability and capability enhancement.
Chief of the Air Staff, Air Chief Marshal Mike Wigston said:
“This Statement of Intent between the UK and Belgium reflects our shared ambition for Protector, the MQ-9B Remotely Piloted Aircraft System, working in partnership to tackle threats to our national and collective security.
“The Royal Air Force and Belgian Air Force will explore opportunities to train, maintain and work together on this game changing aircraft using its cutting-edge sensors and systems to protect national, NATO and European security.
“The introduction of Protector MQ-9B reflects a step change in remotely piloted aircraft operations in Europe and worldwide. The Royal Air Force is delighted that the Belgian Air Force will stand beside us again on that historic journey.”
Major General Frederik Vansina said:
“As the second Air Force acquiring this system, we are proud to join the United Kingdom in setting the first milestones towards interoperability between both our systems.
“Both our nations see great opportunity in developing strategic partnership and in doing so we will tackle shared challenges with greater strength on top of streamlining our Forces’ interoperability in employing this state-of-the-art asset.
“As other NATO Air Force’s join the United Kingdom and Belgium in acquiring this cutting-edge capability, which we will seamlessly integrate into densely navigated airspaces around the globe, I’m proud to announce today’s signing of our bi-national Statement of Intent. This is a first and important step toward the foundation of a reliable partnership between our Air Force’s involving key aspects in the development of this novel system.”
The UK is the lead customer for the capability. Last month, Defence Secretary Ben Wallace announced a contract with General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc. (GA-ASI) to build the first three UK Protectors with an option for 13 more in due course.
Known as Protector RG Mk1 in the UK, MQ-9B is the first RPAS to be designed, built and certified against stringent NATO and UK Safety Certification standards equivalent to piloted aircraft to allow flight in unsegregated civilian airspace.
Belgium is procuring four MQ-9Bs for its defence needs with contract awarded earlier this month.
MQ-9B will make a significant contribution to the Intelligence, Surveillance, Target Acquisition and Reconnaissance (ISTAR) capabilities of both nations.
MQ-9B is the latest generation of GA-ASI’s multi-mission Predator B fleet. GA-ASI named its baseline MQ-9B aircraft SkyGuardian and the maritime surveillance variant SeaGuardian.
MQ-9B is the result of a five-year company-funded effort to deliver an unmanned aircraft system that can operate in non-segregated, civil airspace, which meets the stringent airworthiness type-certification requirements of NATO STANAG 4671.
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 Automatic Takeoff and Landing Capability (ATLC), Lynx Multi-mode Radar and a Detect and Avoid (DAA) system.
In addition to the Belgian Air Force and the UK Royal Air Force (RAF), the Australian Government is procuring MQ-9Bs for the Australian Defence Force (ADF) under Project Air 7003.