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UK’s First Protector Unmanned Aircraft Completes Inaugural Flight

The UK’s first Protector RG Mk1 will enter service in 2024.

The UK’s first Protector RG Mk1 Remotely Piloted Aircraft System (RPAS), manufactured by General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc., completed its maiden flight on September 25 in the United States.

It’s the first RPAS of the three ordered by the UK government for 65 million pounds ($83.4 million) as part of their Protector program to “upgrade a whole range of lethal capabilities.” With the new system, the UK hopes to “control, protect and manage the battlespace from the air for hours on end.”

Customized for Royal Air Force

The aircraft, customized to the Royal Air Force’s (RAF) specifications, is based on the MQ-9B SkyGuardian, General Atomics’ most advanced RPAS.

The RG MK1 aircraft will enter service in 2024 and will be based at RAF’s Waddington station in Lincolnshire, about 130 miles north from London. From there, it will be able to fly anywhere in the world.

“Protector will be deployed in wide-ranging Intelligence, Surveillance, Target Acquisition and Reconnaissance (ISTAR) operations where its ability to fly consistently for up to 40 hours will offer a vastly improved ISTAR capability,” said Group Captain Shaun Gee, the RAF’s Director Air ISTAR Programmes.

“Given that it is designed to fly in non-segregated, civil airspace, the Protector RPAS will be able to respond rapidly and offer flexibility, delivering many types of military or civil authority support missions, including search and rescue,” he added.

RG Mk1’s Specifications

The aircraft will be deployed in border patrol, fire detection and firefighting support, maritime patrol, and resource monitoring missions, among others.

The RG Mk1 comes with a Detect and Avoid System to enhance the safety of operations in civil and military airspace. And to operate in adverse weather conditions, the aircraft is equipped with lightning protection, a de-icing system, and a damage tolerant airframe, said the manufacturer in a statement.

In terms of offensive power, the RPAS will reportedly be laced with low-collateral, precision-strike weapons – the UK-made Brimstone missile (MBDA) and Paveway IV Laser Guided Bomb (Raytheon UK). 

Apart from the three RPAS ordered by the UK government to add to the RAF’s fleet, the contract offers the option to sign 13 more aircraft to replace the current fleet of Reaper RPAS.

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