• The MQ-9B Sky Guardian. (General Atomics)
    The MQ-9B Sky Guardian. (General Atomics)

The government announced early this morning that it has down-selected the MQ-9B SkyGuardian remotely piloted aircraft over the MQ-9A Reaper.

The next phase will focus on developing the $1.3 billion MQ-9B acquisition proposal, which is scheduled for government consideration in 2021-22. The project will deliver Australia’s first armed Medium Altitude Long Endurance Remotely Piloted Aircraft System.

“Cutting-edge technology of this kind, with advanced sensors and systems, would complement advanced aircraft such as the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter and ensure that ADF maintains state-of-the-art capability,” Minister for Defence Linda Reynolds said.

“Local companies that provide a range of innovative sensor, communication, manufacturing and life-cycle support capabilities will have the opportunity to showcase their capabilities throughout this development process,” Minister for Defence Industry Melissa Price said.

According to RAAF Director-General of Air Combat Capability Air Commodore Darren Goldie, the down-selection means his team can now focus on what the acquisition will look like, providing advice to government on provisioning, aircraft numbers, cost profiles and more to inform the acquisition decision in 2021-2022.

“MQ-9 is more about support to the land force and the littoral,” AIRCDRE Goldie told ADM. “So more customizable payloads, which are all about going after close electro-optic IR and signals intelligence.”

AIRCDRE Goldie also described the primary difference between the two variants under consideration for the down-selection.

“The big difference between the MQ-9A and MQ-9B is that the MQ-9B is able to be certified to fly in civilian airspace,” AIRCDRE Goldie said.

The main operator of the MQ-9B variant is the UK, which modified the aircraft and named it the ‘Protector’.

More on RAAF’s unmanned platforms will be available in the February edition of ADM.

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