The UK defense ministry and General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc (GA-ASI) have signed a £65 million (approx. $81.8m) contract for the construction of the first three Protector remotely piloted aircraft systems.
After a successful development phase, the Protector RG Mk1 is set to enter service by mid-2024, the defense ministry said. The first system will be delivered in 2021, according to the company which added that the system would remain in the US for the test and evaluation program.
The contract will also see GA-ASI deliver three ground control stations and other associated support equipment. What is more, it includes options for 13 more aircraft and four ground control stations, which will complete the current planned fleet of 16 aircraft, more than doubling the capability currently provided by Reaper.
The contract was announced by UK defense secretary Ben Wallace at the virtual 2020 Air and Space Power Conference.
“Protector will provide the RAF with vast global reach, meeting the UK’s defense and security needs for decades to come, and provides another increase to the unmanned inventory for the armed forces,” Wallace said.
“This aircraft will upgrade a whole range of lethal capabilities allowing us to control, protect and manage the battlespace from the air for hours on end.”
Armed with MBDA’s Brimstone missiles and Raytheon’s Paveway IV laser guided bombs, the Protector is the world’s first certified RPAS, enabling it to fly in busy, unsegregated airspace, including civilian airspace, thanks to its ‘detect and avoid’ technology.
Protector is replacing the current Reaper RPAS force, and will be deployed in intelligence, surveillance, targeting and reconnaissance (ISTAR) operations from its base at RAF Waddington, Lincolnshire. Capable of flying consistently for up to 40 hours, the Protector fleet will feature advanced anti-icing and lightning protection and enhanced data links.