The US Air Force Special Operations Command (AFSOC) has awarded General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc. a contract for the delivery of three MQ-9B SkyGuardian remotely piloted aircraft, becoming the first US customer for the system.
AFSOC bought the new variant of MQ-9 after more than 14 years flying the MQ-9A Reaper, operating more than 40 aircraft in harsh environments around the world.
According to the company, MQ-9B will contribute to the development of AFSOC’s new Adaptive Airborne Enterprise (A2E) concept, which envisions AFSOC projecting air power for special operations forces from beyond the horizon, using a family of large UAS and expendable, small UAS from permissive to denied environments.
“We’re very excited to continue our great partnership with AFSOC well into the future,” said David R. Alexander, president of GA-ASI. “MQ-9B is the ideal platform for inserting air-launched effects into potentially hostile environments. The MQ-9B’s combination of range, endurance, reduced manpower footprint, and overall flexibility will make it a true centerpiece of AFSOC’s future family of advanced UAS systems.”
GA-ASI says the MQ-9B has demonstrated airborne endurance of more than 40 hours in certain configurations, automatic takeoffs and landings under SATCOM-only control, as well as a GA-ASI-developed Detect and Avoid System, among other upgrades.
While AFSOC is its first US military customer, the model has garnered interest from customers throughout the world. After the UK defense ministry selected MQ-9B SkyGuardian for its upcoming Protector program, the Belgian defense ministry signed a contract for SkyGuardian.
The Japan Coast Guard is currently operating MQ-9B in the SeaGuardian configuration, which the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF) also recently selected for its Medium-Altitude, Long-Endurance (MALE) RPAS trial operation project beginning in April.