The UK’s Ministry of Defence (MoD) has signed a contract for its first three General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc (GA-ASI) Protector RG.1 remotely piloted air systems (RPAS).
The Protector RG.1 is the UK’s designation for the MQ-9B SkyGuardian. The £65m (A$116.4m) contract follows a successful development program and rollout of the first production SkyGuardian by GA-ASI, and was announced by the UK’s Defence Secretary Ben Wallace at the virtual 2020 Air and Space Power Conference on July 15. “The UK is proving once again that we are a world leader in defence technology,” Secretary Wallace said.
“Protector will provide the RAF with vast global reach, meeting the UK’s defence and security needs for decades to come, and provides another increase to the unmanned inventory for the Armed Forces,” he added. “This aircraft will upgrade a whole range of lethal capabilities allowing us to control, protect and manage the battlespace from the air for hours on end.”
The Protector RG.1 will replace the RAF’s 10 MQ-9A Reaper RPAS in service. While essentially the same airframe as the Reaper, the SkyGuardian/Protector is certified to operate in controlled airspace, and has numerous other improvements in range, endurance, and sensors. The UK plans to order 16 Protector RG.1 air vehicles and at least seven ground control systems (GCS), and they will be based at the RAF’s main ISTAR base at Waddington in Lincolnshire.
CEO of the MoD’s Defence Equipment and Support, Sir Simon Bollom said, “I am delighted to announce that we have got Protector production on contract. The DE&S team have demonstrated their remarkable resilience and overcome considerable challenges to ensure this significant programme remained on track.
“Their efforts and the collaborative commitment from industry means that the RAF can still look forward to the delivery of the cutting-edge Protector and the step-change in capability that it brings.”
The RAAF has identified the MQ-9B as its preferred solution for its Project AIR 7003 (page 26) armed UAS requirement, and expects to sign a contract for the first of 12 systems in 2021.