General Atomics' Mojave STOL UAV Trial on UK Aircraft Carrier Prince of Wales

General Atomics' Mojave STOL UAV Trial on UK Aircraft Carrier Prince of Wales

General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc. (GA-ASI) is embarking on a groundbreaking initiative with the upcoming Mojave Short Take-Off and Landing (STOL) UAV demonstrator trial, set to take place on the UK aircraft carrier Prince of Wales. This trial holds great significance for the development of the MQ-9B STOL configuration program, introducing a new era in unmanned aerial vehicles.

During a four-month deployment by the warship to the eastern US seaboard, the primary goal is to advance operations involving various aircraft types, including drones, fighter jets, helicopters, and tiltrotors. The highlight of this endeavor is the inaugural attempt of the Mojave to take off and land on the vessel's extensive 901-foot-long deck, contingent on favorable weather conditions.

Jaime Walters, the Vice President of International Strategic Development at GA-ASI, elucidated, "The objective is to launch the Mojave aircraft from the aircraft carrier, and should conditions be optimal, recovery will be considered." This phase represents an experimental approach, pushing boundaries enough to catalyze the future of the MQ-9B STOL configuration and development program.

The trial is the result of a £1.25 million ($1.5 million) contract issued in May by the UK Ministry of Defence (MoD) to GA-ASI. The contract explicitly outlines its intent to conduct trials and experiments to demonstrate a threshold capability for a Short Take-off and Landing Uncrewed Air Vehicle (UAV). The outcomes of these experiments will hold substantial influence over future investment plans in this domain.

A statement from a Royal Navy spokesperson confirms the scheduled Mojave trial in November, as part of the service's drive to explore innovations for future carrier operations.

This initiative follows a backdrop concerning the Prince of Wales, which remained inactive since August 2022 due to a mechanical breakdown caused by a starboard propeller shaft misalignment. This incident prematurely terminated a training exercise in the US, just one day after the ship's departure from its home base in Portsmouth, England. Subsequent investigations revealed an installation error that led to a shaft misalignment of 0.8mm to 1mm.

General Atomics' Mojave STOL UAV Trial on UK Aircraft Carrier Prince of Wales

Upon the ship's return to sea, the Royal Navy initiated another pioneering mission - testing drone take-off and landing operations on the Prince of Wales. These tests were executed using a W Autonomous Systems (WAS) UAV, departing from the Lizard Peninsula in Cornwall, England, and successfully delivering supplies to the warship in September.

For General Atomics, the Mojave trial serves as an entryway to the MQ-9B STOL program, which has already garnered significant interest from various European navies, including France, Italy, and Spain. This innovative configuration involves detaching the wings from the Medium Altitude Long Endurance (MALE) UAV and integrating a STOL kit, eliminating the need for a catapult or arresting gear during recovery.

One of the most notable benefits that the MQ-9B STOL aircraft offers Carrier Strike Group (CSG) or Surface Action Group (SAG) operations is "deck cycle" protection and enhanced surveillance coverage. It provides early warning indicators, reinforcing the safety and security of the carrier.

Mojave, initially unveiled by General Atomics in December 2021, is tailored for expeditionary missions and boasts impressive capabilities. It can take off and land from undeveloped terrain, featuring a wingspan of 52 feet, an endurance exceeding 25 hours, and the capacity to carry up to 16 Hellfire missiles, as detailed in GA-ASI's company literature.

Presently, the manufacturer is under contract to supply the UK Royal Air Force with 16 MQ-9B SkyGuardian (known as Protector in British service) Medium Altitude Long Endurance (MALE) UAVs, marking a significant milestone in the advancement of unmanned air systems.

In conclusion, the collaborative effort between GA-ASI and the UK Ministry of Defence, exemplified by the Mojave STOL UAV trial, holds the promise of reshaping the future of unmanned air systems and enhancing the capabilities of aircraft carriers, such as the Prince of Wales. This innovation paves the way for more advanced, efficient, and versatile operations in the realm of military aviation.

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