The UK has exercised a clause in its contract with General Atomics to buy an additional 13 Protector RG Mk1 Remotely Piloted Air Systems (RPAS), the manufacturer announced.
The initial contract, signed in July last year, was for three drones.
UK Minister for Defense Procurement Jeremy Quin said, “Our fleet of 16 Protector aircraft equipped with ultra-modern technology will provide the Royal Air Force (RAF) with a vast global reach allowing us to monitor and protect the battlespace for hours on end.”
“The Protector program involves industry across the UK with vital parts of the aircraft manufactured on the Isle of Wight, supporting highly-skilled jobs for years to come.”
Protector RG Mk1
The Protector RG Mk1 is the configured version of the baseline MQ-9B SkyGuardian of the same manufacturer. The configuration includes “X-band satellite communications (SATCOM) and support for UK weapon systems, as well as the aircraft’s onboard sensors such as its electro-optical sensor ball and Lynx® Multi-mode Radar.”
One of the three initially contracted drones, called the UK1, completed its configuration in September and has been undergoing testing since.
UK Arrival in 2022
The UK1 is slated for delivery to the UK Ministry of Defence later this year. However, it will remain in the US “to complete the Royal Air Force’s (RAF) test and evaluation program.” The aircraft will arrive in the UK in 2022.
Senior Responsible Owner for the RAF Protector Programme, Air Commodore Richard Barrow said, “The contract for the additional 13 Protector aircraft, taking the total to 16, is a major milestone for the UK.”
“When Protector enters service in 2024, UK Defence will take an enormous jump forward in capability, giving us the ability to operate globally with this cutting edge, highly adaptable platform.”
Capable of flying up to 40 hours continuously, the Protector is expected to vastly improve UK Intelligence, Surveillance, Target Acquisition, and Reconnaissance (ISTAR) capabilities.
RAF’s Director Air ISTAR Programmes Group Captain Shaun Gee remarked, “Given that it is designed to fly in non-segregated, civil airspace, the Protector RPAS will also be able to support multiple civilian missions, including search and rescue and disaster response missions.”