General Atomics-Aeronautical Systems, Inc. (GA-ASI), is to create a line of remotely piloted aircraft (RPAS) with short takeoff and landing characteristics based on the MQ-9B, which would enable it to operate from aircraft carriers and amphibious assault ships.

GA-ASI reported that it intends to further expand the versatility of its MQ-9B line of remotely piloted aircraft by developing a kit that provides short takeoff and landing (STOL) capabilities for the SkyGuardian and SeaGuardian models.

GA-ASI began development of the STOL capability in 2017 as part of its Mojave initiative. The STOL capability was initially tested on a modified Gray Eagle Extended Range platform in 2021, but now the company will begin development of the STOL version on the MQ-9B drone, a platform already selected by the Royal Air Force (RAF), the Belgian Ministry of Defense and the Japan Coast Guard.

The MQ-9B STOL will combine the long-range, multi-payload capabilities of the SkyGuardian and SeaGuardian, with increased versatility and endurance, which would allow missions to be executed in more austere locations, including embarked operations from large amphibious assault ships or aircraft carriers.

See also: General Atomics introduces Mojave UAS: Soul of a Reaper, but for rough and short runways

The MQ-9B STOL configuration will consist of an optional wing and tail kit that can be installed in less than a day. The core of the aircraft and its subsystems remain the same. Operators can perform the modification in a hangar or on a flight line, providing a capability that would otherwise require the purchase of an entirely new aircraft.

“Imagine taking the hard top off your Jeep. You lift it off, stow it in your garage and now you’ve got an open vehicle. If it rains, you put the hard top back on. We’re the same. Take a standard MQ-9B, put the STOL kit on, and then go fly,” said GA-ASI President David R. Alexander.

The Naval MQ-9B

In its naval configuration, the MQ-9B STOL (part of GA-ASI’s Mojave series of unmanned aircraft) will have wings that fold for parking on the deck or in the hangar bay, like other naval aircraft.

When it’s time to launch, operators will start the aircraft, unfold the wings, and take off over the bow without the need for catapults. GA-ASI believes the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps will take note of this innovation as it opens the door to persistent and long-range Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) operations over blue water, or forward operating bases.

Other navies with ships with long flight decks, such as amphibious assault ships, will be able to access ISR, and naval/land exploration and interdiction capabilities that were only possible from large aircraft carriers.

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