India is in the process of acquiring 31 MQ-9B SeaGuardian drones worth over $3 billion from the US. The MQ-9B SkyGuardian – an Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) developed by General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc will be used for surveillance and reconnaissance missions in the Indian Ocean region. These drones have a range of over 1,000 miles and can stay in the air for over 24 hours.
MQ-9B SkyGuardian – a next generation of remotely piloted aircraft systems (RPAS), is designed to fly over the horizon via satellite for up to 40+ hours in all types of weather and safely integrate into civil airspace, enabling joint forces and civil authorities to deliver real-time situational awareness anywhere in the world—day or night. The MQ-9B is part of the Predator series of remotely piloted aircraft and is being used by various military and government agencies for surveillance and reconnaissance purposes.
One of the world’s most sophisticated medium-altitude, long-endurance unmanned aircraft, the MQ-9B can provide roughly 80 percent of the capability of a large human-flown maritime patrol aircraft at about 20 percent of its cost per hour. That makes it much more economical for navies to — for example — send out SeaGuardians to clear big volumes of air or sea and then, if anything of interest is discovered, vector in a human-crewed aircraft to save it the time, cost, and wear that it otherwise might have expended.
The SeaGuardian springs from the world’s most proven family of remotely piloted aircraft — the more than 1,000 Predator-series multi-mission aircraft that have logged roughly 8 million operational hours, mostly in combat. As the most capable aircraft of its kind, it’s revolutionizing Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW), Anti-Surface Warfare (ASuW), and Electronic Warfare in support of carrier strike groups, surface action groups, amphibious ready groups, and international forces.
The aircraft is outfitted with the revolutionary Lynx Multi-mode Radar, an advanced electro-optical/infrared (EO/IR) sensor, automatic takeoff and landing, and features a longer wingspan than its predecessors at 79 ft (24m). Its onboard sensors can see through clouds, fog, mist, or smoke. Other onboard systems can monitor radio frequency spectrum, collecting intelligence of all kinds that contributes to the most complete common operating picture possible.
The MQ-9B SkyGuardian – an Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) developed by General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc will be used for surveillance and reconnaissance missions in the Indian Ocean region. These drones have a range of over 1,000 miles and can stay in the air for over 24 hours
SkyGuardian provides enhanced payload capacity and an open architecture system that enables the aircraft to integrate the most advanced sensor payloads for intelligence gathering, survivability, and even kinetic payloads for more complex operational environments. SkyGuardian features nine hardpoints (8 wing, 1 centerline) with a max 4750 lb (2155 kg) external payload capacity. This enables armed forces and governments to easily integrate sovereign payloads and mission systems for their own uniquely tailored solutions.
SkyGuardian is designed not only meet NATO standards (STANAG 4671) but also to comply with civil airspace requirements in the U.S. and around the world. Using GA-ASI’s first-of-its-kind Detect and Avoid System and Certifiable Ground Control Station, SkyGuardian seamlessly integrates with normal air traffic just like other commercial aircraft. SkyGuardian’s remote flight station gives operators a similar, if not better, air traffic picture than the cockpit of human-crewed aircraft. Over the years, GA-ASI has been working very closely with the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration and the UK Civil Aviation Authority to approve MQ-9B for flight in civil airspace.
The proprietary Detect and Avoid System, invented by GA-ASI, allows the aircraft to operate in civil airspace just like any other aircraft. This eliminates the need for special arrangements or human-flown escort aircraft like those that remotely piloted aircraft might have needed in the past.
The UK’s Royal Air Force is currently leading the way and will be the first force to operate this aircraft under their own designation, Protector RG Mk1. Key features of the MQ-9B SkyGuardian include:
Artificial Intelligence (AI) Integration: Incorporation of AI for autonomous flight, threat detection, and even decision-making in specific scenarios could increase efficiency and effectiveness.
Stealth Capabilities: Improved low-observable features could enhance survivability in contested environments.
Endurance: The MQ-9B is designed for long-endurance missions, capable of staying airborne for extended periods, which is particularly useful for surveillance and reconnaissance missions. It can fly for up to 40 hours
All-weather operation: The aircraft can operate in a variety of weather conditions, including high winds, rain, and snow. This makes it a valuable asset for military and civilian operations alike.
MQ-9B SkyGuardian – a next generation of remotely piloted aircraft systems (RPAS), is designed to fly over the horizon via satellite for up to 40+ hours in all types of weather and deliver real-time situational awareness anywhere in the world—day or night
Medium-altitude: Operates at an altitude of 45,000 feet
Payload Capacity: It has the capability to carry a variety of payloads, including sensors, cameras, and other mission-specific equipment. This makes it versatile for a range of applications, including intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance (ISR), and target acquisition.
Autonomous Operation: The MQ-9B is equipped with autonomous capabilities, allowing it to operate semi-autonomously or autonomously for certain phases of its mission. However, it usually requires human operators for command and control.
Variants: The MQ-9B has different variants, such as the SeaGuardian (naval version) and the SkyGuardian, which is designed for broader operational flexibility and certification to fly in civil airspace.
Communication Systems: It is equipped with advanced communication systems for real-time data transfer and communication with ground control stations.
Advanced sensors: The aircraft is equipped with a variety of sensors, including the Lynx Multi-mode Radar, an advanced electro-optical/infrared (EO/IR) sensor, and maritime patrol radars. These sensors provide operators with a comprehensive picture of the battlefield or area of interest.
Precision weapons: The SkyGuardian can be armed with a variety of precision weapons, including Hellfire missiles and laser-guided bombs. This makes it a capable platform for both offensive and defensive operations.
Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW): Integrating sonar buoys and other ASW tools could enable SkyGuardians to track and potentially even engage underwater threats.
Electronic Warfare (EW): Equipping SkyGuardians with EW capabilities could disrupt enemy communications and sensor systems.
Ballistic Missile Defense (BMD): Deploying SkyGuardians with sensors and potentially interceptor missiles could contribute to early warning and potentially even counter-strikes against ballistic missile threats.
Civil Applications: Expanded use in border security, disaster relief, search and rescue, and environmental monitoring could further solidify the SkyGuardian’s value beyond military purposes.
The MQ-9B SkyGuardian is a powerful tool with immense potential for enhancing situational awareness, intelligence gathering, and mission execution. The SkyGuardian is in service with a number of countries, including the United States, the United Kingdom, Belgium, and the United Arab Emirates. It has been used in a variety of missions, including border security, maritime patrol, and counter-insurgency operations.
–The writer is a seasoned media professional with over three decades of experience in print, electronic, and web media. He is presently Editor of Taazakhabar News. The views expressed are of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views of Raksha Anirveda