In an effort to meet newer, more demanding NATO and American FAA regulations for airworthiness standards in civil airspaces around the globe, General Atomics is developing an offshoot of its hugely successful MQ-9 "Predator B" Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) as the MQ-9B "Protector". The type features upgrades at both the software and hardware levels to better serve in various global environments while also being protected against natural dangers such as bird strikes, icing, and lightning. Britain's Royal Air Force (RAF) has committed to the type and the service expects to receive its first units before the end of 2018 with type certification expected between 2021 and 2022 (civil airspace certification will arrive later). This certification will allow the air vehicle to legally fly over population centers with the intended goal of monitoring and coordinating disaster responses and the like.
The Protector maintains the Predator's proven form and function, the sleek fuselage housing the primary avionics suite, optics fit, and powerplant. The wings are straight monoplanes with winglets at the tips. An optics package is positioned in a trainable blister pack under the chin. A Y-shaped tailplane arrangement is used that features a pair of outward-cranked fins and a single downward-cranked plane. The undercarriage sports three thin legs, all wheeled. At the rear of the aircraft is a three-bladed propeller unit arranged in "pusher" fashion.
The Protector is to have a maximum speed of 210 knots with a mission endurance window of some forty hours and a total product life of 40,000 hours. Operational ceilings will reach 40,000 feet. Supported systems are set to include the Raytheon MTS-B Electro-Optical / InfraRed (EO/IR) sensor fit, the GA-ASI "Lynx" multi-mode mission radar, and a true sense-and-avoid / all-weather functionality. Mission payloads will be modular to allow customers to append the product as needed.
The MQ-9B platform is also forming the basis for the armed "SkyGuardian" Unmanned Combat Aerial Vehicle (UCAV) which will feature support for precision-based guided munitions. Similarly, the "SeaGuardian" is being developed as a multi-mission maritime patroller with surface-search radar to meet the demands of over-water sorties in both the military and civilian spheres.
July 2018 - The MQ-9B SkyGuardian prototype was flown to RAF Fairford in England from Grand Forks, North Dakota - covering some 24 hours in the air. This marks the first such venture by a Medium-Altitude, Long-Endurance (MALE) unmanned aircraft.
November 2018 - Belgium has selected the MQ-9B SkyGuardian to fulfill its MALE requirement.
February 2019 - General Atomics has entered into agreements with France-based MBDA and America-based Raytheon to further its UK "Protector" program work for the Royal Air Force (RAF) / Royal Navy - this will provide Protector support for missiles/bombs developed by both respective companies ("Brimstone" and "Paveway IV").
March 2019 - The General Atomics MQ-9B is one of several UAVs that will content for a Japanese Coast Guard requirement encompassing twelve drones.
March 2019 - The U.S. State Department has approved the sale of MQ-9B drones to the nation of Belgium under the Foreign Military Sale (FMS) program. The country now joins the United Kingdom as a foreign operator of the type.
May 2019 - The MQ-9B is a possible acquisition target for Canada, competing with the Israeli Heron TP line.
July 2019 - The UK has announced its intention to retire its fleet of Reaper UAVs in 2024 in favor of the newer MQ-9B "Protector" series.
April 2020 - General Atomics has flown its first production-quality MQ-9B SkyGuardian UAV.
August 2020 - General Atomics has received a $189 million USD contract to further a Belgian MQ-9B fleet request.
September 2020 - A Royal Air Force Protector UAV, the Protector RG1/UK1, has made its first flight on September 25th, 2020.
November 2020 - The U.S. State Department has approved the sale of four MQ-9B SkyGuardian UAV systems to the island nation of Taiwan.
November 2020 - The United Arab Emirates has been approved for the purchase of the MQ-9B. Up to eighteen systems will be procured by the Gulf nation.
Production 2 Units
General Atomics - USA
Belgium; Taiwan (announced); United Arab Emirates (announced); United Kingdom; United States (possible)
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