General Atomics presents an on-board version of its MALE MQ-9B SkyGuardian drone

Over the past two decades, Medium Altitude Long Endurance combat drones, or MALE, such as the famous MQ-1 Predator from the American General Atomics, and its successor the MQ-9A Reaper, have profoundly changed air-land combat. Endowed (as the name suggests) with a long endurance of the order of 30 hours for the Reaper, these devices can patrol and survey huge areas thanks to advanced Electro-optical systems, and strike targets with air-to-surface munitions such as the AGM-114 Hellfire missile and the GBU-38 JDAM guided bomb. While their effectiveness in high-intensity combat remains to be determined due to a significant vulnerability, and this despite the convincing results obtained by the Turkish-made TB2 Bayraktar light MALE drone used by the Ukrainian forces, their surveillance and of endurance have overflowed in recent years from the strict air-land bubble, in particular due to the interest of world navies for such capabilities.

To meet these new needs, General Atomics developed the MQ-9 Seaguardian, a version of its drone dedicated to maritime surveillance, even having anti-submarine warfare capabilities to support maritime patrol devices such as the Atlantique 2 or the P-8A Poseidon. On the occasion of the Indo Pacific 2022 show in Australia, the manufacturer also presented a new version of its drone, designated MQ-9B STOL, intended this time to be implemented from helicopter carriers and flat-deck aircraft carriers, without the need to use a catapult or a Skijump type springboard. Visually, the MQ-9B STOL differs only slightly from the Skyguardian, except for a V-tail and larger high-lift devices. However, the drone is designed to be operated from an aircraft carrier, and has a system allowing its large straight wings to fold up to reduce its footprint on the ground, an essential capability for using the elevators and reduce clutter in hangars.

mq9B Defense News | Maritime Patrol Aviation | Combat drones
the MQ-9B Seaguardain maritime patrol version offers interesting anti-submarine warfare capabilities to support patmar frigates, helicopters and aircraft

Very little information has been revealed about this program, except for its embedded nature. However, it is specified that the drone can be used from the US Navy's new America-class LHA assault aircraft carriers, but also from older Wasp-class LHDs, as well as, at the Australian show, LHD Canberra class of the Royal Australian Navy. On the other hand, nothing is indicated as to the autonomy, the carrying capacity, nor the specific missions attributed to this drone. However, due to the different versions of the Reaper/Guardian, the opportunities seem numerous and of high added value, whether to carry out advanced surveillance missions in maritime space, maritime patrol missions and combat anti-submarine, reconnaissance and target designation for amphibious operations, or to act as an advanced aerial surveillance device for the benefit of the F-35B, giving amphibious aircraft carriers new capabilities that are more than interesting from the point of view of operational view, for a ship much less expensive and less complex to implement than an aircraft carrier.

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