MQ-9 drone with JSM cruise missiles: how real is this idea?
MQ-9B SkyGuardian, photo by General Atomics

General Atomics is thinking about making their MQ-9B SkyGuardian relevant in future wars with a serious enemy and has now presented a new concept of using this UAV as a launch platform for cruise missiles, The War Zone reports.

The artistic concept of such a modification – an MQ-9B drone with Norwegian-American Joint Strike Missile (JSM) cruise missiles was presented at the Avalon air show in Australia. In addition to the JSM missiles, the drone is also on display with a maritime search radar under the fuselage and two Sledgehammer electronic warfare pods under the UAV’s wings.

MQ-9B SkyGuardian with JSM cruise missiles, image by GA-ASI
MQ-9B SkyGuardian with JSM cruise missiles, image by GA-ASI

As the representative of General Atomics noted in a comment to the publication, this configuration is currently “somewhat tentative.” It is primarily intended to initiate further discussion regarding the use of this UAV in the future.

However, despite this, GA-ASI has conducted an internal feasibility study of equipping the MQ-9B drone with JSM cruise missiles, demonstrating that the weapon meets all requirements.

JSM missiles, Kongsberg image
JSM missiles, Kongsberg image

However, as GA-ASI admits, such a concept will have its limitations – equipping a drone with four JSM missiles with all other equipment will seriously affect its range and duration of the flight. On the other hand, the issue can be solved by reducing the payload – for example, using only two JSMs or giving up one of the Sledgehammer pods.

At the same time, JSM missiles could be combined with other UAV capabilities – in particular, GA-ASI previously reported on the development of a kit that would allow the MQ-9 to operate from large amphibious ships and aircraft carriers.

In general, today, GA-ASI does not carry out specific work on the physical integration of a missile on a UAV but considers such an “option” in the future for its customers, the company says. In particular, the publication mentions Japan, which buys the JSM missile for its F-35A and also tests the sea version of the SeaGuardian MQ-9B drone.

The Joint Strike Missile (JSM) is a multi-purpose missile developed by the Norwegian Kongsberg Defense & Aerospace and the American Raytheon Missiles & Defense, based on the NSM anti-ship missile. Its mass is 416 kg, of which the warhead is 120 kg. It can destroy targets at a distance of 280 km and up to 560 km.