The UK has reportedly contracted General Atomics to provide a detect-and-avoid capability to the fleet of MQ-9B Predator B/Sky Guardian armed UASs it has on order.
To be designated Protector RG Mk I in RAF service, the aircraft were originally ordered without the detect-and-avoid capability, a capability that is required in order for the aircraft to be certified to operate in controlled airspace. This is considered to be a key requirement in order to be able to operate in the UK and Europe’s congested airspace under NATO STANAG 4671.
DefenseNews reported a UK Ministry of Defence ISTAR program officer as saying the detect-and-avoid system will “become part of the program in the very near future”.
The Protector will replace the similarly configured General Atomics Reaper currently in service with the RAF, but which is not certified to operate in UK airspace. The RAF ordered 16 Protectors in 2016, while US Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA) has approved the acquisition of up to 26 systems. When it enters service from 2022, the system will become the world’s first certified remotely-piloted vehicle to operate in commercial non-segregated airspace.
DefenseNews also reports that BAE Systems has signed an MoU with the UK MoD to support the development of a concept of operations (CONOPS) for the Protector in UK airspace, and that MBDA and Raytheon UK have been contracted to integrate the Brimstone 3 air-to-surface missile and Paveway 4 precision guided bomb respectively on the Protector air vehicle.
“Protector RG Mk1 is the third UK air platform to benefit from the unmatched capabilities of the Brimstone missile, providing UK Armed Forces with vital operational advantages and sovereign defence capabilities,” MBDA’s UK Sales Director James Allibone told DefenseNews. “Brimstone is unique in its ability to be carried by platforms in all domains, land, sea and air, providing a common weapon that delivers both operational and cost benefits.”
The Australian government announced last November its Gate 1 milestone approval for its Project AIR 7003 armed UAS requirement for the RAAF, but is yet to confirm whether it will opt for the US-common MQ-9 Reaper Block 5, or the certified MQ-9B Predator B/Sky Guardian.
The November announcement also didn’t define how many systems or air vehicles the RAAF will acquire, although the 2016 Defence White Paper had forecast a requirement of 12-16 systems.