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$4B Aircraft Deal For India OK’d

DEFENSE: GA-ASI Cleared to Sign Pact By

POWAY – The U.S. government has approved a formal request from India to buy 31 remotely piloted military aircraft from General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc.

The deal is worth an estimated $3.99 billion and includes weapons as well as associated products and services.

The U.S. State Department approved the sale, according to a Feb. 1 announcement from the Pentagon’s Defense Security Cooperation Agency. India already uses similar aircraft; it leases two SeaGuardian aircraft from the Poway builder. By the summer of 2023, the aircraft had accumulated 12,000 hours of service over two years, GA-ASI reported on Aug. 7.

India plans to buy the MQ-9B SkyGuardian, an improved version of the MQ-9A Reaper, according to the Pentagon announcements, though other accounts discuss India buying a slightly different aircraft, SeaGuardian. The deal was previously reported as worth $3 billion.

The proposed deal includes 170 Hellfire air-to-ground missiles and 310 laser small diameter (250-pound) bombs. It also includes an unspecified number of ground control stations, turboprop engines from subcontractor Honeywell Aerospace (Nasdaq: HON), a large variety electronics (including radars), as well as logistics and program support services.

Also included are sonobuoys, expendable sonar buoys used in anti-submarine warfare.

The federal government’s announcement said the proposed sale will let India conduct unmanned surveillance and reconnaissance patrols in sea lanes of operation.

General Atomics Aeronautical Systems is an affiliate of General Atomics. The privately held company does not release revenue.

For the India project, the Pentagon said the purchaser will likely seek an offset — in other words, a requirement that some manufacturing be steered to a supplier in India. This is negotiated by the buyer and the seller. Some published reports said the Indian aircraft might be assembled in India.

Order Book Filling

Aviation Week reported that GA-ASI’s order book for MQ-9 aircraft stands at 54 today, but the number may rise to as many as 124 in the decade ahead.

Canada ordered 11 similar aircraft in a $1.86 billion deal that includes weapons and related equipment. GA-ASI announced the order in December. Delivery of the first aircraft is scheduled for 2028.

The SkyGuardian is able to stay aloft for more than 40 hours. It can carry 6,000 pounds of fuel and 4,750 pounds of weapons externally. In addition, it can carry an 800 pound internal payload.

SkyGuardian has a 79-foot wingspan, longer than the 66 feet on its predecessor, the MQ-9A Reaper model flown by the U.S. Air Force.

SkyGuardian meets NATO standards and complies with civil airspace requirements in the United States and around the world.

GA displayed one of its SeaGuardian aircraft at the Dubai Air Show in November. Aviation Week reported that the United Arab Emirates might order 18 of the aircraft.

Separately, Aviation Week reported in January that Germany’s navy is planning flight trials of SeaGuardian this year.

Fatigue Test Completed

In other news, GA-ASI announced in January that it completed the first full-scale fatigue test on an MQ-9B aircraft, subjecting it to the equivalent of 40,000 hours of operations.

Testing took place between Dec. 13, 2022 and Dec. 5, 2023 at Wichita State University’s National Institute for Aviation Research in Wichita, Kansas.

The test simulates the aircraft’s design service through the application of repeated structural loading on the assembled airframe. The testing identifies any potential structural deficiencies ahead of fleet usage and assists in developing inspection and maintenance schedules for the airframe.

“Full-scale fatigue testing is an integral part of validating the airframe design and a key input to the certification of the airframe prior to going into service,” said Chris Dusseault, vice president of MQ-9B in Europe. “The completion of the fatigue test builds confidence for our MQ-9B customers that the SkyGuardian/SeaGuardian airframe meets the stringent design rigor and is a mature system at Entry into Service.”

General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc.
FOUNDED: 1992
CEO: Linden P. Blue
HEADQUARTERS: Poway
BUSINESS: Maker of remotely piloted aircraft and subsystems
WEBSITE: ga-asi.com
CONTACT: 858-312-2810
NOTABLE: The aircraft that GA-ASI is building for Canada needs special electronics. Because they will fly north of the Arctic Circle, the aircraft will have to use satellites, antennas and communication components not previously integrated on SkyGuardian or its sister aircraft.

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