The Royal Air Force Protector RG Mk1, a remotely piloted aircraft system, took to the skies from RAF Waddington, marking another important milestone in the delivery of the surveillance, intelligence, and precision strike aircraft to the front line. The first of 16 remotely piloted Protector aircraft arrived at RAF Waddington in Lincolnshire in September and is undergoing a series of rigorous trials and tests before entering the RAF fleet. Capable of operating across the world with a minimal deployed footprint and remotely piloted from RAF Waddington, it can operate at heights up to 40,000 feet with an endurance of over 30 hours.
Protector, the largest and most advanced remotely piloted aircraft flown in UK airspace, successfully taxied and flew a series of circuits around RAF Waddington airfield, at all times under the control of a pilot through its ground-based advanced cockpit. Equipped with a suite of surveillance equipment, the Protector aircraft will bring a critical global surveillance capability for the UK, all while being remotely piloted from RAF Waddington. Protector will be able to undertake a wide range of tasking including land and maritime surveillance to track threats, counter terrorism, and support to UK civil authorities, such as assisting HM Coastguard with search and rescue missions.
“At DE&S one of our key drivers is strengthening operations by providing cutting-edge equipment into the hands of our Armed Forces. Seeing the first UK Protector take flight on UK soil is a key moment along that journey to our goal.” Mr. Holford Head of Remotely Piloted Air Systems for Defence Equipment and Support said.
“Achieving the first flight of Protector in UK Airspace is a fitting milestone for this phase of testing, representing an outstanding team effort. We will now build on this success and look forward to the next Test & Evaluation phase as part of our preparations for the In Service Date later next year,” Group Captain Rutledge
RAF Programme Director for Protector said.
In addition to accepting the Intelligence, Surveillance, Target Acquisition and Reconnaissance (ISTAR) roles currently undertaken by Reaper, which has provided exceptional service on operations around the clock for more than 15 years, Protector will be certified to stringent NATO safety and certification standards allowing it to operate in the UK and European civilian airspace. Arrival into the UK of 15 further aircraft from General Atomics in the US, will be a phased delivery over the coming years. All aircraft are expected to be delivered and in-service by Jul 2025.
Protector RG Mk 1 (MQ-9B) is the successor to Reaper (MQ-9A) and is the next generation of remotely piloted medium-altitude, long endurance (MALE) aircraft. Protector will be deployed in wide-ranging armed Intelligence, Surveillance, Targeting and Reconnaissance (ISTAR) operations where its ability to fly consistently for up to 40 hours will offer the RAF a vastly improved armed ISTAR capability. Considered a step change in capability for the RAF, the cutting-edge platform will be capable of being flown anywhere in the world while being operated by personnel located at RAF Waddington. Protector will be able to fly in busy, unsegregated airspace thanks to its ground-breaking ‘detect and avoid’ technology.
The platform will also be able to take off and land automatically, increasing its flexibility and meaning there will be a significantly reduced deployed footprint when compared to other remotely piloted platforms such as Reaper. The aircraft payload comprises of a complex suite of sensors, including a High-Definition Electro-Optical, Infra-Red (IR) camera, which, combined with endurance, provides a sensational persistent reconnaissance capability across the electro-magnetic spectrum. The aircraft will use enhanced data links and carry next-generation, low-collateral, precision strike weapons – the UK-made Brimstone missile (MBDA) and Paveway IV Laser Guided Bomb (Raytheon UK). In addition to MBDA and Raytheon, 12 other UK companies contribute towards the MQ-9B programme. Protector will enter service in 2024.