The UK has agreed a £195m ($268m) deal for a further 13 Protector remotely piloted aircraft system (RPAS), with a total of 16 now ordered from General Atomics Aeronautical Systems (GA-ASI).
Expected to enter service in mid-2024, the Protector RPAS will provide surveillance capability for the UK Royal Air Force (RAF) and be operated from RAF Waddington in Lincolnshire, UK. The deal also including four additional ground control stations and associated support equipment.
In a July 22 release the UK government stated that the commitment to a 16-strong Protector fleet was outlined in the recent Defence Command Paper and was supposed by a £24bn uplift to the UK’s defence budget over the next four years.
During a visit to GKN Aerospace on the Isle of Wight, which manufactures the V-shaped tails of the Protector and other SkyGuardian RPAS variants, UK Defence Minister Jeremy Quin stated the fleet would provide the country with “a vast global reach” and enable enduring battlefield surveillance “for hours on end”.
Protector will be deployed in intelligence, surveillance, targeting and reconnaissance (ISTAR) operations where its 40-hour endurance will provide the RAF an improved ISTAR capability compared to the existing MQ-9A Reaper platforms, also manufactured by GA-ASI.
The fleet will also have anti-icing and lightning protection and in addition to ISTAR payloads can carry Brimstone missiles and Paveway IV laser-guided bombs.
The first three aircraft were ordered last year, with the first two completed and currently undergoing test and evaluation in the US. The first aircraft delivery to the RAF will be in 2023.
Later this year, Protector’s capability will be demonstrated in the UK with a SkyGuardian aircraft taking to the skies in Lincolnshire before taking part in Exercise Joint Warrior from RAF Lossiemouth.