The Royal Air Force has awarded General Atomics Aeronautical Systems £100 million to carry out test and evaluation work that will lead to its new MQ-9B SkyGuardian unmanned aerial vehicle being certified as airworthy. The contract was signed last month, but was announced by Air Chief Marshal Mike Wigston, Chief of the Air Staff for the UK, during DSEI on Wednesday.
In announcing the award, ACM Wigston also said the RAF is in discussions with international partners regarding the programme, including for use in the maritime domain.
SkyGuardian is being acquired by the UK under its Protector requirement, and building on from the 10-strong MQ-9 Reaper fleet that the RAF currently operates, will be a medium-altitude, long-endurance (MALE) UAV that is capable of flying in national airspace. Certification and airworthiness work is therefore required to ensure that it is able to carry out this expanded mission, and this new contract represents a transition in the programme to more operational-focused requirements now that the development of the aircraft itself is largely complete.
SkyGuardian has been pitched as potentially being able to be configured to carry out an anti-submarine warfare role − Ultra Electronics is a partner for the British programme and has capabilities for small sonobuoys − while there is also a maritime variant of the MQ-9B specifically designed for naval operations, called SeaGuardian.