Every minute of every day, around 30 US Air Force and Army Predator and Sky Warrior UAVs are in the air over Iraq and Afghanistan, providing persistent reconnaissance and strike capabilities to Coalition forces.
That’s a major selling point for General Atomics Aeronautical Systems (GA-ASI) which has come to the show keen to show off the fact that its products are on active service.
Armed with Hellfire missiles, Predators have made the pages of the world’s press over the past couple of years after taking out high-value insurgent targets under the command of controllers sitting several thousand miles away in the US.
GA-ASI is now roughly 75% through a 48-month system development and demonstration (SDD) phase for its MQ-1C Sky Warrior programme for the US Army.
The Sky warrior is a variant of the MQ-9 Predator B, powered by a Thielert Centurion heavy fuel engine. This uses the same fuel as other aircraft and helicopters, which simplifies logistical support.
Although still in SDD, two Sky Warrior Block 0 vehicles have already been deployed to Iraq and have achieved 1,000 combat flight hours, according to Tom Cassidy, GA-ASI’s president, aircraft systems group.
“They’ve had just one maintenance action, replacement of a flap actuator. SDD is continuing and the Army has decided to take some Block 1s and deploy them. They’ll start going over there in a couple of months.”
This follows an acceleration of the programme, taking the opportunity to get assets in-theatre faster than previously, “not sitting around testing the hell out of them for 10 years”, says Cassidy.
Predator Bs are already flying daily with both the USAF and UK Royal Air Force in Afghanistan, clocking up the highest operating rates of any airborne assets in the theatre, he adds. A typical Predator mission is 18-20h, while Sky Warrior is racking up 18h sorties.
GA-ASI is pushing Predator B, rather than Sky Warrior, for potential export sales. Italy has bought earlier Predator As and is buying the more powerful Predator B, and the company sees Germany, Spain, France, the Netherlands, Australia and Canada as potential purchasers.
The company will be demonstrating one of its training simulators at the show, the CLAW payload control and exploitation software.