The UK Government have confirmed that they are keeping the size and capability of the UK’s Remotely Piloted Air Systems fleet “under constant review”.

The information came to light via a Parliamentary Written Question.

Kevan Jones, MP for North Durham, asked:

“To ask the Secretary of State for Defence, what estimate he has made of the (a) adequacy of the number of Protector drones in the RAF and (b) number of Remotely Piloted Air Systems required for RAF operations.”

James Heappey, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence, responded:

“Remotely Piloted Air Systems (RPAS) such as Protector and Reaper are taking an increasingly important place in the Defence capability of the UK in a rapidly changing technological and international environment. As such, we keep the size and capability of our RPAS fleet under constant review. The UK has ordered 16 Protector RPAS to replace its existing Reaper Fleet.”

Protector

Recently, I reported that the first set of V-tails manufactured by GKN Aerospace on the Isle of Wight has been fitted to one of 16 new Protector aircraft destined for the Royal Air Force. According to a news release from the RAF, GKN Aerospace now manufactures the V-tails for all MQ-9B aircraft variants which are manufactured by General Atomics-Aeronautical Systems-Inc (GA-ASI) at a facility in California.

The MQ-9B aircraft will be known as Protector once it enters RAF service by mid-2024.

The RAF add that Protector will be deployed in wide-ranging Intelligence, Surveillance, Targeting and Reconnaissance (ISTAR) operations where its ability to fly consistently for up to 40 hours, offers the RAF vastly improved armed ISTAR capability.

Michelle Sanders, Remotely Piloted Air Systems Delivery Team Leader, was quoted as saying:

“This milestone demonstrates the continued progress being made on this important programme which will provide the RAF with a cutting-edge capability.  As well as equipping the UK Armed Forces for operations now and into the future, this key programme promotes prosperity in the UK and supports highly-skilled jobs.”

There have been comments from some corners that the fleet of 16 may be too few especially after the news that Protector could be used to augment the UK’s fleet of P-8 Poseidon Maritime Patrol Aircraft.

Protector drones could augment Poseidon maritime patrol aircraft

A recent announcement from the builders of Protector, American firm General Atomics (GA-ASI), signals their continued effort to push the aircraft as a viable, long-endurance maritime patrol platform.

Additionally, remarks from senior politicians and Royal Air Force higher-ups appear to signal the intention to operate Protector in a maritime role. You can read more on this here.

George has a degree in Cyber Security from Glasgow Caledonian University and has a keen interest in naval and cyber security matters and has appeared on national radio and television to discuss current events. He also works for the NHS. George is on Twitter at @geoallison
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Jonny
Jonny
1 day ago

We need cheap, expendable drones such as bayraktar that we don’t need to worry about losing in a high intensity conflict. We would also be able to have more of them. These are very fancy but also expensive and do a lot of the same things as bayraktar.

George Parker
George Parker
1 day ago
Reply to  Jonny

Jonny, I’m sure we can build much more effective and probably cheaper versions of expendable drones. The function is most likely part of the swarming drone concept which is well underway “behind closed doors.”
Search for: An overview of Britain’s drones and drone development projects.

simon alexander
simon alexander
1 day ago
Reply to  Jonny

Jonny cheap drones probably is the future for hot war. these protector / posseidon drones probably can fly in civilian air space during ‘peace time’.

Malcolm Featherstone
Malcolm Featherstone
1 day ago

Isn’t there a ‘hot war’ going on now?

So perhaps we need them sooner than later.

Darren hall
Darren hall
10 hours ago
Reply to  Jonny

We already do… Watchkeeper WK450 for example… Currently in Army use and being used for the ”Dover Patrol”…
Desert Hawk III, small man portable drone 250+ units in service…
Adding freefall munitions to a cheap Drone with a live camera feed is a simple task, already done by ISIS and the Azerbaijanis.

But these are not designed to do what Reaper / Protector do…
The capability of these two UAVs compared to what the Turks are suppling the Ukrainians are vast.

However, we need more

nonsense
nonsense
1 day ago

Obviously the advantages of a large surveillance area and high altitude.

Another advantage is that 21 Brimstones will crush 21 tanks under optimal conditions.

And at least 21 times more expensive than Bayraktar.😂

John Clark
John Clark
1 day ago

Certainly if Ukraine has taught us anything, all our UAV projects need an extra cash injection and an increase in numbers. We need to boost the Protector fleet by adding another 20 to the order, the project is already well underway and we should realise the held options we have with immediate effect and expand further. Augmentation of the P8 fleet with Protector is an absolute no brainer. Adding Carrier capability to the basic airframe is just adding gravy for the UK, considering our large deck QE class, again a no brainer force multiplier. Add Spear3 and various Radar systems… Read more »

JohninMK
JohninMK
1 day ago
Reply to  John Clark

The problem with the Protector, like its bigger ISTAR brothers, is its vulnerability to AD systems. UAVs have proven to work incredibly well over the past 20+ years but that has been in theaters of operation that where there is little to attack them or what there is that can is badly organised. Iran showed how vulnerable even the Global Hawk is. Surely, as others say, the future is a Protector fleet much the size we have planned but supported with hundreds of lower cost but expendable UAVs?

Suportive Bloke
Suportive Bloke
1 day ago
Reply to  JohninMK

The only thing I have learned about drones from Ukraine is that the Russian forces are unable to detect or shoot down very simply slow flying medium altitude Turkish drones. A decent 40mm auto cannon should do that job perfectly well.

But the Russian can’t seem to get that working either…..

dave12
dave12
1 day ago

You took the words right out of my mouth, as with all Ukraine successes you got to take on board how bad the Russians actually are. The Turkish drones should of never been this successful, but they are.

Airborne
Airborne
1 day ago

😂😂😂👍

James
James
1 day ago

Turkish drones success is electronic warfare, Turkey has advanced in that area significantly. They mastered to blind the Russians in many conflicts with Ukraine being the latest . What struck me is the Russians were supposed be advances in that area? Maybe they chose not deploy them or are exposed .

Airborne
Airborne
1 day ago
Reply to  JohninMK

It would therefore seem even the Iranians are better than your Russian amateurs!

Max Bridges
Max Bridges
1 day ago

Surely the mosquito drones when they enter service will provide more capability and augment our aircraft better
I wonder if a p8 can remotely fly a mosquito or whether that technology is being investigated?

Jon
Jon
1 day ago
Reply to  Max Bridges

Protector can be flown via satellite, and given the UK’s resurgent interest in all things space, it’s possible Mosquito will go the same way.

Nigel Collins
Nigel Collins
1 day ago

Can we expect to see some of these on board the QE carriers at some point?

“General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc (GA-ASI) said on 10 May that it is developing a kit to provide short take-off and landing (STOL) capability on its MQ-9B SkyGuardian and SeaGuardian unmanned aerial systems (UASs).”

https://www.janes.com/defence-news/air-platforms/latest/general-atomics-announces-mq-9b-stol-upgrade-for-carrier-operations

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Last edited 1 day ago by Nigel Collins
Spyinthesky
Spyinthesky
1 day ago
Reply to  Nigel Collins

Yes I think we discussed that in an article on here about that demonstration a few weeks back. I am pretty sure it would be possible (or a drone of a similar nature alternatively) it would be more about what they could offer overall (surely lots), how and the cost of incorporating it on their flight decks and if any adaptation is required and depending on that, whether the platforms value positively balances against any hindrance of deck operations etc etc. Clearly the ski jump is a potential issue in this regard. But personally it’s difficult not to see a… Read more »

James
James
1 day ago
Reply to  Spyinthesky

The Turkish light carrier will operate TB3 and it has a skip jump , so it will be interesting how they will make it work once they demonstrate this year

Spyinthesky
Spyinthesky
12 hours ago
Reply to  James

Interestingly just read in Naval News the stol version was designed to operate from Americas, Wasps and notably the Australian Canberra class which of course have ski jumps. So it seems very likely that they could it be operated by our carriers if it were deemed useful to do so.

ChariotRider
ChariotRider
1 day ago

The Protector is a great ISTAR force multiplier and a very effective strike asset in uncontested or poorly contested airspace. However, I think some cheaper as well as high end specialist combat drones, such as the loyal wingman systems we are developing, are needed. Clearly the UK is heading towards high end ISTAR and loyal wingman drones but I would like to see use bring in some cheaper systems as a force multipliers. Although training in UK airspace might be a challenge, unless we add cost and give them the smarts to operate under CAA safety requirements. I recently looked… Read more »

Jon
Jon
1 day ago
Reply to  ChariotRider

By upping the price from those £50 ones, commercial off the shelf drones can go very much further for far less money and could have miltary use. The miltary grade Black Hornet, bought for the British Army, is a 32g finger tip launched surveillance drone that reputedly costs £160K. The commercial DJI Mavick 2 EA weighs 900g and is a chunky handful folded up, say two-brick size. It costs £5,500. A fraction of the price, the DJI goes further, faster, with better imagery (wide angle, zoom and IR) and better windproofing. If I was soldier, I think I’d much rather… Read more »

Last edited 1 day ago by Jon
jason
jason
1 day ago

We need more of everything we need more reserves of stock and people, we just need a bigger army with more ambition but with the correct strategy of course.

Bloke down the pub
Bloke down the pub
1 day ago

That’s before they start looking at putting Mojave Protectors on the carriers.

Mark
Mark
1 day ago

We need to get the yanks to build a mock up of a ramp and test if Mojave can takeoff and land in the specified QE deck size. Oh wait a minute haven’t they just done that to test F18s for the Indian navy. Surely would be a no-brainer to do a few tests for the admirals over here to observe.

James
James
1 day ago
Reply to  Mark

I just said the above . The Turks are doing a test on their carrier for the TB3 which is TB2 naval version on their light carrier which has a ski jump . They clearly figured something out . They plan to deploy 100 of those drones which will be joined next by the MIUS fighter drone

Sean
Sean
19 hours ago
Reply to  Mark

If they can land on USMC America class ships they can land on the QE class.
They already have a ramp where the U.K. orange-wired F35s are based in the US.

Spyinthesky
Spyinthesky
12 hours ago
Reply to  Sean

Good point, if they are Canberra capable as reported in Naval News that may well have been used to test them in which case we would be well aware of the capability no doubt.

Spyinthesky
Spyinthesky
12 hours ago
Reply to  Mark

As I say above it was designed to operate from Canberra’s apparently though would be interesting to know more about the tests and methods used to make that feasible but one presumes they are available to UK authorities maybe they were even present as GA would not have been blind to the opportunity surely.

Last edited 11 hours ago by Spyinthesky
Jon
Jon
11 hours ago
Reply to  Spyinthesky

I can’t believe the Juan Carlos derivatives ramps are that different from the UKs. So Canberra and Anadolu are a testbed for us.

Mark
Mark
7 hours ago
Reply to  Spyinthesky

I think it’s a no brainer to get 10-15 of these to share with the army.

James
James
1 day ago

Turkey alone has more drones than entire of Europe ,and they have a diversity of drones air and surface, naval drones . We now see the impact drones have on wars and it’s something the MOD can’t ignore. Turkey more than anybody understood this concept and has created a drone warfare concept soon expanding to naval warfare too with autonomous fast attack boats armed with anti ship or air missiles and sonar that work with drones In the sky and Turkish warships. Turkish warships will take safe distance from enemy anti ship missiles range and let their boats and drones… Read more »

Last edited 1 day ago by James
Klonkie
Klonkie
1 day ago

I’ll take the glass half full view that the RAF will receive more MQ-9B’s
16 does does seem on the light side.  

Monkey spanker
Monkey spanker
22 hours ago
Reply to  Klonkie

16 is more than the number of reaper they are replacing? I think. Does it still take a fully qualified pilot to drive the thing and a weapons specialist to fire?
If they can make a drone fly to an area do its search or whatever it’s tasked with and then let someone know if it finds something then we could see lots more working together.
As it stands a pilot for each one, how many could be operated at one time? And I’m guessing it would need over 4 pilots working shifts for 40 hours flight each.

Klonkie
Klonkie
18 hours ago
Reply to  Monkey spanker

Hi MS.

Mate, I’m unsure on the number of operators per platform. The pilot is a fully qualified but you did get me thinking if they allocate 2 or 3 pilots per airframe. Probably about four will be in maintenance, so about a dozen airframes available.?

I think you’re correct in that there are currently 10 Predators within the RAF.

Louis
Louis
13 hours ago
Reply to  Klonkie

10 MQ9a reapers are in service. The predator is an upgraded reaper.

Klonkie
Klonkie
1 minute ago
Reply to  Louis

Thanks Louis- I’m always confusing the two!

Spyinthesky
Spyinthesky
11 hours ago
Reply to  Monkey spanker

The article I refer to above states it uses a commissioned pilot to fly it and an enlisted payload expert which as you suggest are then swapped out during the mission if it’s towards the max potential endurance.

Spyinthesky
Spyinthesky
11 hours ago
Reply to  Klonkie

US Marines have only ordered 16 of the type too surprisingly which GA are hoping this STOL version will help address.

Klonkie
Klonkie
4 seconds ago
Reply to  Spyinthesky

Thanks for the update Spyinthesky.

Simon
Simon
23 hours ago

the cynical side of me is thinking “they are keeping numbers under review” to cut half of them to fund a magic new development that will make us ” more agile” and the result will be something that doesn’t work or cost ten times what it was forecast to cost or both!!

Spyinthesky
Spyinthesky
11 hours ago
Reply to  Simon

Bloody brilliant in digital war games mind.

Joe16
Joe16
11 hours ago

I’m on the fence as to any increase in protector numbers right now; I think they do the job until we get some results from Project Mosquito, at which point they could become more focussed on the maritime patrol aspect- which is a far more permissive environment for them. Unless they can do AEW better than Crowsnest, as well as the ASW we’ve seen renders of, I’m not sure it’s worth the effort getting them on the carriers. Merlin and the T23/T26 + a rotary ASW asset like Firescout or V-247 would be a better buy, because they can be… Read more »