The Royal Air Force will be receiving more Protector remotely piloted aircraft systems (RPAS) after the UK defense ministry exercised a £195 million ($268M) contract option for a further 13 systems.
UK defense minister Jeremy Quin announced the new contract during a visit to GKN Aerospace (GKNA), who are manufacturing key parts of aircraft on the Isle of Wight.
The 13 units will be joining the first three ordered in July 2020. The country’s first Protector performed its maiden flight in September of the same year and is scheduled for delivery by 2023.
While the first SkyGuardian will arrive only in 2023, General Atomics-Aeronautical Systems said it would deploy one system to the Royal Air Force station Waddington in Lincolnshire, allowing personnel to get familiar with the system they will operate. The pre-production example of the new RPAS will be operated by the manufacturer and is expected to take part in exercise Joint Warrior from RAF Lossiemouth.
Protector will provide critical surveillance capability for the RAF and will be equipped with a suite of surveillance equipment and precision strike weapons to deploy against potential adversaries around the globe, all while being operated from RAF Waddington in Lincolnshire.
At GKNA’s Cowes site, minister Quin saw how the program benefits UK industry as they manufacture the V-tails for Protector and other SkyGuardian variants for customers across the world, including Belgium and Australia, following their partnership with GA-ASI.
“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 defense will take an enormous jump forward in capability, giving us the ability to operate globally with this cutting-edge, highly-adaptable platform,” Protector program senior responsible owner, Air Commodore Richard Barrow said.
Protector will be deployed in 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.
Protector RG Mk1s are replacing the MQ-9A Reapers currently in service with the Royal Air Force.