General Atomics Aeronautical Systems (GA-ASI) is confident of a strong market for large UAVs in Southeast Asia and East Asia despite prevailing export limitation issues.

GA-ASI is promoting a number of unmanned aircraft at the show, namely its MQ-9B Sky Guardian, Gray Eagle Extended Range (GE-ER), and its Predator ISR – a variant of the MQ-9 Reaper.

"There is a lot of interest in the MQ-9B and some of the other platforms," says Warren Ludwig, director international strategic development Australia and Southeast Asia at GA-ASI. "Singapore is a good show for us."

Ludwig, who earlier in his career flew Lockheed Martin P-3C Orions for the Royal Australian Air Force, is an expert on the maritime patrol and anti-submarine warfare mission. He says militaries in Southeast Asia have a keen interest in UAVs' ability to complement traditional manned maritime patrol aircraft (MPA).

"Across Asia customers are interested in the full spectrum. In Southeast Asia an East Asia there is more focus on maritime domain awareness, and sometimes they're looking right up to strike-end and ASW warfare as well. MQ-9B has capability to address all maritime roles as well as overland and littoral missions."

Get all the coverage from the Singapore Airshow here

In the ASW mission, the MQ-9B can deploy a field of up to 96 sonobuoys and stay on station to monitor them for up 24 hours, sharing data with the ground or other aircraft. Customers have various ideas on employing UAVs in this mission, ranging from using a single UAV to both deploy and monitor the sonobuoy field, or having the UAV deploy the field and hand off monitoring to a manned platform.

The aircraft's nine hard points can be equipped with a range of sensors and other weapons as well, depending on mission.

One feature of the MQ-9B that Ludwig says appeals to regional militaries is the separation of mission and flight systems. Because the MQ-9B is designed to operate in non-military airspace – a crucial consideration given the crowded skies of Southeast Asia – the separation of the two systems gives great leeway to operators swapping payloads on the aircraft.

One challenge in the region is the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR), which limits signatories such as the United States from exporting high-end UAVs to non-signatory countries. No Southeast Asian country is a signatory of MTCR. Some countries that active in the UAV business, such as Israel and China, are not part of MTCR."

"MTCR is a big concern for us," says Ludwig. "The MQ-9B is category one under MTCR and the Predator XP is category 2, so there are only a handful of customers we are able to export to. There has been discussion about the US administration changing export policies, including MTCR. We're supportive of any moves in that sense, and that would help us market to some countries not approved for export."