The UK Royal Air Force’s first Protector remotely-piloted aerial system (RPS) that is being built by General Atomics – Aeronautical Systems Inc (GA-ASI) has completed its maiden flight in the US.
The first of three units ordered under a £65 million contract from July this year was flown by GA-ASI staff on September 25.
Worth noting is that the milestone also comes after GA-ASI announced in March this year that it flew a production-representative MQ-9B SkyGuardian remotely piloted aircraft for the first time. SkyGuardian is the baseline RPA that will become the Protector RG Mk1 once delivered to the Royal Air Force.
Protector RG Mk1s are replacing the MQ-9A Reapers currently in service with the Royal Air Force.
“The inaugural flight of the UK’s first Protector is an exciting and welcome step in the development of our ground-breaking fleet,” UK defense minister Jeremy Quin commented.
This first Protector aircraft will remain in the US to support system testing as part of a combined UK MOD, US Air Force and GA-ASI test team. Upon completion of this initial testing, it will be delivered to the MOD in the summer of 2021 but will remain in the USA to complete the RAF’s test and evaluation program.
This is the first of the three Protector aircraft currently on order, although the contract includes an option for the remaining 13 aircraft to complete the currently planned fleet of 16 aircraft.
Protector will be deployed in wide-ranging Intelligence, Surveillance, Targeting and Reconnaissance (ISTAR) operations where its ability to fly consistently for up to 40 hours, offers the RAF improved armed ISTAR capability.
It would also be available, if requested, to support civilian agencies in the UK, for example in search and rescue and disaster response missions.
The aircraft will use enhanced data links and carry next-generation, low-collateral, precision strike weapons like the Brimstone missile and the Paveway IV laser guided bomb.
“Protector will be deployed in wide-ranging ISTAR operations where its ability to fly consistently for up to 40 hours will offer a vastly improved ISTAR capability,” Group Captain Shaun Gee, the RAF’s Director Air ISTAR Programmes, said.
“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.”
The first aircraft will be delivered to the RAF at Waddington base, Lincolnshire, in 2023 and will enter service in 2024.