To achieve airworthiness that meets NATO STANAG 4671 GA-ASI redesigned the MQ-9 platform from scratch, to enable the new ‘SkyGuardian’ to meet fully the UK Military Type Certificate for the time when Protector RG MK1 enters service by the mid-2020s. The RAF just announced its plan to assign the RPAS to 31 Squadron, that will phase out the Tornado GR4 by next year.

The company has also designed a maritime version of the drone, designated ‘SeaGuardian’ but has not announced any orders for the new type. It is designed to support open-ocean and littoral surface surveillance. All three variants are designed to fly more than 40 hours with airspeeds up to 210 knots and reach altitudes of more than 40,000 feet. At a gross takeoff weight of 12,570 lbs (5,700 kg) it will carry 4,750lbs (2,159 kg) of external payload.

The aircraft is equipped with an advanced Detect and Avoid (DAA) system, including space, weight, and power provisions to allow for the retrofitting of an airborne Due Regard Radar (DRR) to support operations in the non-cooperative airspace.

GA-ASI developed the SkyGuardian as a private initiative the project has also received generous support from the British MOD, with a recent announcement of an $81M Foreign Military Sales contract by the US Air Force Life Cycle Management Center, that provides for integration and component level testing for UK specific enhancements. “MQ-9B represents the next generation of RPA system capabilities,” said Linden Blue, CEO, GA-ASI. “It has demonstrated new airborne endurance records (>48 hours) and automatic takeoffs and landings under SATCOM-only control. MQ-9B will also have our currently operational MQ-9 detect and avoid system (with collision-avoidance radar), which will support MQ-9B operations in civil airspace.”