Five-Week Flight Series Includes Several Industry Firsts
In partnership with the UK’s Royal Air Force, General Atomics Aeronautical Systems conducted a series of flight demonstrations featuring a company-owned MQ-9B SeaGuardian remotely piloted aircraft.
The series of demonstrations began on August 25 and ended with the completion of the British exercise Joint Warrior on September 30.
“The support of the RAF was key to the success of our demonstrations,” said Robert Schoeffling, vice president of international strategic development for GA-ASI. “Our partnership has enabled us to achieve a number of industry firsts by showcasing our innovative RPA to senior military officials from 16 countries. “
The flights showcased the many operational capabilities of the MQ-9B, including the advanced maritime intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, detection and avoidance (DAAS) system, endurance and advanced interoperability with partners of NATO. During Joint Warrior, a demonstration of Manned-Unmanned Teaming (MUM-T) was held using the SeaGuardian and an RAF P-8, showing the SeaGuardian’s ability to complete and sustain combat tasks anti-submarine (ASW), which included tracking, surveillance and reporting sonobuoys.
The demonstrations were initially based on RAF Waddington before moving to RAF Lossiemouth to support Joint Warrior. While based at RAF Waddington, one flight saw SeaGuardian travel to Leeuwarden Air Base, taking the RPA into Dutch airspace and proving a seamless transition between national air traffic regions, while testing the airspace operational procedures. The multi-day demonstration, which took place September 1-2, demonstrated SeaGuardian’s maritime surveillance capabilities in support of international allies. The Royal Netherlands Air Force has ordered four MQ-9A RPAs and the first is expected to be delivered to Leeuwarden later this year. SeaGuardian returned to RAF Waddington at the end of the event.
This important event was followed by the first UK Civil Aviation Authority approved point-to-point domestic flight of an unmanned aircraft using the UK airway structure, when SeaGuardian flew from Lincolnshire , England, Moray, Scotland, September 12. The flight was controlled by NATS, the UK’s civilian air navigation service provider.
“The MQ-9B is the first RPA to be cleared to fly so widely in UK-controlled airspace,” said Mark Watson, Head of Aircraft Systems Traffic Management Services Integration unmanned for NATS. “This brings us very close to same-day notification of ‘file and fly’ privileges as a platform compatible with instrument meteorological conditions. “
A large number of airworthiness artifacts have been reviewed by the UK’s Civil Airworthiness Authority, which first approved the MQ-9B for operations in non-segregated and uncontrolled airspace based on the following airspace deconfliction technologies and full documentation provided in the safety case.
SeaGuardian is the maritime version of the MQ-9B SkyGuardian. As a launch customer, the RAF ordered 16 aircraft in their configuration, which they named RPA Protector RG Mk1 systems. The Protector is a derivative of the SkyGuardian, with an array of customer modifications.
“The coordination between GA-ASI and our RAF team was exciting to see,” said RAF Group Captain Shaun Gee, Director of Air ISTAR Programs (RPAS and TacISR) and SRO Shadow Program. “It was great to see first-hand the revolutionary capabilities of the RPA that we commissioned for Protector. The ability of the aircraft to integrate into European airspace is essential for the RAF as well as for our international allies.
The flights culminated with the participation of the RPA in the UK-led Joint Warrior exercise, which demonstrated how the maritime capabilities of the MQ-9B can be integrated with other air, sea and land assets. An international audience observed the RPA’s maritime capability which includes multimode surface search radar with reverse synthetic aperture radar (ISAR) imaging mode, automatic identification system (AIS) receiver, Electronic support (ESM) as well as standard High-Definition, Full-Motion video sensor equipped with optical and infrared cameras. Following a visit by UK Border Force leaders in which they observed the capabilities of the system, a Military Assistance to Civilian Authority (MACA) demonstration flight was conducted over the English Channel.
In support of European maritime demonstrations, GA-ASI has partnered with SES, the leading provider of global satellite communications services (SATCOM) operating the world’s only constellation of multi-orbital satellites in geostationary and Earth orbit medium (MEO), and offering a unique combination of global coverage and high performance. For the demonstrations, GA-ASI took advantage of SES’s GEO Ku-band connectivity as well as X-band reachback provided via the GovSat-1 satellite. GovSat-1, which is exclusively dedicated for government use and offers secure multi-mission capabilities, is operated as a public-private joint venture between the Luxembourg government and SES. The SATCOM service allowed the MQ-9 to operate safely with a high capacity data link, allowing real-time transmission of data from aircraft sensors and the operations center using a link SATCOM, including with data rates up to 70 Mbps in secure return.
“With our global satellite connectivity services, SES has served the critical needs of GA-ASI and its government customers for nearly two decades, and we are delighted to be a part of this demonstration effort as part of our long-standing relationship. with General Atomics, ”said Will Tong, vice president of strategic government initiatives and head of the Aero ISR market at SES Networks. “As the needs of our customers evolve and require increasingly secure, flexible and efficient services for real-time data exchange and feedback communication, we are happy to leverage our existing capabilities and innovate further with next-generation broadband systems like O3b. mPOWER, enabling network sovereignty and cloud-scale applications that governments seek.