The US defense department has awarded General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc. (GA-ASI) a $188.8 million contract for the production and delivery MQ-9B SkyGuardian remotely piloted aircraft to Belgium.
This contract covers the delivery of four MQ-9Bs, two certifiable ground control stations, spares and support equipment. GA-ASI is expected to complete work under the contract by March 2024.
The Pentagon contract award follows the US State Department approval for the sale of the systems to Belgium from March 2019. In addition to the UAVs and ground control stations, Belgium also requested five AN/DAS-4 multi-spectral targeting systems, embedded global positioning system/inertial navigation systems (EGI), AN/APY-8 Lynx synthetic aperture radars and detect and avoid systems.
Anticipating the official contract award, GA-ASI partnered with nine Belgium-based businesses to support the development of the MQ-9B for Belgium. The partners include AeroSimulators Group (ASG), AIRobot, ALX Systems, Hexagon, SABCA, Thales Belgium, Esterline, Newtec and DronePort.
Belgium is acquiring the SkyGuardian RPA to replace the B-Hunter unmanned system that was delivered by Israel Aerospace Industries. The country expects to start flying its first SkyGuardian in 2023.
The MQ-9B is the latest variant of the MQ-9 series RPAS currently operated by the United States, United Kingdom, Italy, France, and soon Spain, the Netherlands and Belgium. Worth noting is that the SkyGuardian is the world’s only RPAS certifiable to fly in non-segregated airspace. With a wingspan of 24 meters and an endurance of over 40 hours, the aircraft can support over-the-horizon long-endurance, medium-altitude intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) missions.