The UK Royal Air Force has begun training for its future Protector RG Mk1 medium-altitude, long-altitude drone fleet in the US.
The effort supports procuring remotely piloted aircraft systems that will replace the service’s MQ-9A Reaper aircraft.
In 2021, a contract was signed for additional Protector drones, increasing the order to 16 drones.
Industry partner General Atomics delivered the initial Protector to the UK last year.
The first Protector technicians who will maintain the aircraft and associated systems graduated earlier this year.
Training in North Dakota
The Royal Air Force’s 54 Squadron is the first Protector pilot team currently training at General Atomics Aeronautical Systems’ facility in Grand Forks, North Dakota.
Preparations include flying Protectors armed with Paveway laser-guided bombs and Brimstone programmable fire-and-forget missiles.
The simulations and live flying activities will run for 12 weeks. Lessons will focus on intelligence exploitation through the multi-spectral targeting system and synthetic aperture radar integrated with the drone.
Meanwhile, mission intelligence coordinators will take a six-week course to operate the Protector’s mission intelligence station.
Once deployed, the Protector is expected to provide critical armed surveillance and enemy targeting using advanced capabilities and precision strike weapons.
Furthermore, the drone’s “detect and avoid” technology and endurance of more than 40 hours will enable the air force to operate in various airspaces.
“I am delighted to see our first cohort of Protector crews commence training on this phenomenal platform,” Royal Air Force Commander Air Cdre. Simon Strasdin stated.
“Reaper has been at the core of RAF combat operations in Afghanistan and the Middle East for almost two decades, demonstrating the utility and effectiveness of [remotely piloted aircraft systems] in the modern battlefield.”
“The increased capability, flexibility and lethality Protector brings will see a step change in how we support UK Defence.”