Maritime domain awareness in and around the Arabian Gulf isn’t only vital for responsible powers in the region – its implications touch every corner of the world.
That’s why advanced militaries across the Middle East and North Africa are looking to unmanned aerial systems (UAS) for their maritime patrol aircraft (MPA) missions and opting for the best and newest system: the MQ-9B SeaGuardian.
The MQ-9B SeaGuardian transforms the depth and breadth of its users’ understanding about what’s taking place above, on or below the water with unmatched endurance that shatters the limitations of comparable manned systems enabling true persistent awareness in the maritime role
In response to the strong regional and global interest, an operational MQ-9B aircraft — not a scaled-down model or replica — will be on display at the Unmanned Systems Exhibition, UMEX, in Abu Dhabi in February.
Visitors will see an aircraft at once familiar, given all the commonalities it shares with the well-proven earlier MQ-9 Reaper and siblings, but also packing the critical capabilities that make it the backbone of fighting forces around the world as the leading multi-role UAS in its class.
New aircraft, new capabilities
The SeaGuardian isn’t only larger, with greater endurance, range and payload capacity. Its onboard equipment also sets it apart from every other UAS.
The MQ-9B was the first aircraft of its kind designed from the wheels up to be certifiable for use in mixed national airspace. Operators can integrate with commercial or other air traffic seamlessly, rather than needing special corridors, chase aircraft or other arrangements. That means they can just “file and fly,” as pilots say, unlocking huge versatility about where and when to operate.
The first-of-its-kind Detect and Avoid System, located in the MQ-9B’s nose, is part of what makes this possible. The sensors and equipment it contains enable the aircraft and its remote human operators to see the skies around it just as a traditional aircraft does, keeping safely clear of other traffic.
The SeaGuardian’s versatility means that it can fly more easily, more frequently, and more usefully than anything else that has come before, permitting flexible operations and putting the aircraft into real-world missions more of the time.
A highly sensitive electro-optical and infrared video sensor provides clear images at any time of day or night. The aircraft’s multi-mode radar enables further high-quality sensing at range and in many difficult conditions, including through smoke or haze. Inverse synthetic aperture radar capabilities make the system ideal for use at sea.
And when the SeaGuardian is equipped with its 360-degree maritime search radar, carried under the aircraft, it delivers even greater wide-area awareness about surface activity.
The MQ-9B’s maritime capabilities don’t stop at the surface, however. Its American manufacturer, San Diego-based General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc., also has demonstrated the ability to release sonobuoys while integrated with other naval units, vastly expanding the volume of sea that an operating force can search. The SeaGuardian is the only UAS of its kind today that can help hunt for submarines.
There’s no end to the way operators can apply all this utility.
One of the most valuable ways is with its ability to be present – always: The SeaGuardian’s roughly 30 hours of endurance means users virtually never have to break contact with targets of interest, or stop observing important areas. Aircraft working in teams provide near-nonstop situational awareness.
That means it’s very difficult for an adversary to mass forces, or act without being observed. Even a small vessel not broadcasting on the maritime Automatic Information System can’t avoid being detected from the air, identified and tracked if necessary. If vessels rendezvous on the high seas to exchange contraband – weapons, for example, or oil in violation of international sanctions – they can’t hide from SeaGuardian.
And as several exercises and international demonstrations have proven, the MQ-9B is a force multiplier when it serves as part of a larger, networked multi-domain operating concept. Aircraft have proven they can track submerged or surface targets for the U.S. Navy, enhance the common operational picture for international naval forces led by the Royal Navy and much more.
Demonstrations in the Mediterranean and off the coast of Japan also have proven over and over that the SeaGuardian changes the game when supporting naval, coast guard, customs enforcement, lifesaving and other operations.
These qualities are what have prompted a growing number of governments to acquire the MQ-9B, including Great Britain, Belgium, Australia, the United Arab Emirates and more. The SeaGuardian on static display at UMEX is in response to the strong interest shown in the aircraft and creates an opportunity for government and military leaders visiting Abu Dhabi to see it for themselves up close.
The first aircraft of its kind designed from the wheels up to be certifiable for use in mixed national airspace – Breaking Defense Breaking Defense is written by General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc., for breakingdefense.com