Backed by more than 20 years working as a partner with General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, the U.S. Air Force Special Operations Command (AFSOC) has entered into a new contract with the company for three MQ-9B SkyGuardian remotely piloted vehicles (RPVs). The transaction was made during a time when an MQ-9A Reaper unmanned aerial system (UAS) was destroyed by Russian fighter aircraft while performing long-endurance missions in international airspace.
General Atomics has built a strong reputation for the reliability of its drones by having supplied more than 40 MQ-9A Reapers around the world. The MQ-9B version of the Reaper will feature the development of the AFSOC’s Adaptive Airborne Enterprise (A2E) concept for beyond-the-horizon scanning and monitoring of airspace. It uses a combination of large UAS vehicles and smaller, expendable unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs).
David R. Alexander, president of General Atomics Aeronautical Systems (GA-ASI), said, “We’re very excited to continue our great partnership with AFSOC well into the future.” Concerning the capabilities of the aircraft in dealing with changing global environments, he added, “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.”
The MQ-9B SkyGuardian (see image above) has been tested for more than 40 hours for airborne endurance and the capability to perform automatic takeoffs and landings via solely satellite-communications (satcom) control signals. The “B” version of the RPV incorporates a number of upgrades and subsystem additions to the “A” version, including a GA-ASI-developed Detect and Avoid System.