Home Air Pre-production Protector RPAS flies in UK skies for first time

Pre-production Protector RPAS flies in UK skies for first time

US MQ-9 Protector RPAS
Photo: Royal Air Force

A pre-production example of the Royal Air Force’s new Protector remotely piloted aircraft has taken to the UK skies as part of preparations for the arrival of Protector to RAF Waddington.

The air station has been selected as the home of the Protector International Training Centre, as part of a £94 million investment into infrastructure improvements to assist with housing the aircraft ahead of its entry into service in 2024.

The UK has ordered 16 Protector aircraft from General Atomics-Aeronautical Systems Inc (GA-ASI), all of which will be based at RAF Waddington, the RAF’s ISTAR hub.

“Today marks a huge milestone in the Protector program, bringing us one step closer to delivering this world-leading capability to the RAF,” UK defense secretary Ben Wallace said at RAF Waddington.

“This £94 million investment cements RAF Waddington’s place as the UK’s ISTAR hub, ensuring our Protector fleet can operate safely and effectively for many years to come.”

A key feature of the investment at RAF Waddington will be the development of a new campus which will include the Protector international training center. Housing the synthetic training system for the aircraft, the center will enable crews from the RAF and international partners to conduct a significant amount of their training in a secure environment, linking in future with the Defence Collective Training environment under the UK Gladiator program.

Operating this summer from the Lincolnshire station, the SkyGuardian aircraft has undertaken a number of sorties showcasing its impressive capabilities while also providing vital information for personnel at RAF Waddington preparing for the aircraft’s permanent arrival in 2024. SkyGuardian will be known as Protector when it enters RAF service.

“The Protector aircraft is a huge leap forward in performance and autonomous technology. It can fly for 40 hours anywhere in the world, providing critical surveillance and precision strike to protect the UK and our allies,” Chief of the Air Staff, Air Chief Marshal Sir Mike Wigston said.

Protector will be able to conduct missions of up to 40 hours and fly in non-segregated civil airspace allowing it to respond rapidly and offer flexibility to deliver an array of military missions and support to civil authorities, including search and rescue.

While in the UK, pilots from GA-ASI have been operating the aircraft. Later this month they will participate in Joint Warrior, a multi-national large-scale military exercise.