The Protector programme will see the UK acquire at least 20 Remotely Piloted Air Systems to replace Reaper and has taken the place of the RAF’s Scavenger programme.
Scavenger sought to supply a medium-altitude, long-endurance aircraft.
The UK currently operates the MQ-9 Reaper, it is an unmanned aerial vehicle developed by General Atomics. The MQ-9 is referred to by the RAF as a Remotely Piloted Air System (RPAS) to indicate their human ground controllers. It is armed with Hellfire missiles.
According to Justin Bronk, as quoted by the FT:
“Reaper offers much greater persistence over potential targets than fast jets like Tornado. They are better suited to maintaining observation over known combat zones where no pre-identified fixed targets exist and they offer more time over target to ensure targets are correctly identified. Pilots can talk about the picture in front of them with intelligence and even legal personnel face to face before striking, which is impossible in a fast jet.”
In October last year, the Ministry of Defence announced the deployment of Reapers in Operation Shader, the first occasion the UK used its Reapers outside of Afghanistan. The number of aircraft wasn’t disclosed at the time but it’s expected that more were moved to the Middle East as the UK withdrew them from Afghanistan. Their primary purpose is to provide surveillance support and situational awareness to coalition forces.
UK Reaper’s were at first flown from Creech in Nevada, but since 2013 they have been flown from RAF Waddington by 13 and 39 Squadrons.
David Cameron said:
“We have at the moment a drone fleet of 10 Reapers and what we are going to be doing is actually replacing that with twice as many with a new updated piece of equipment – called Protector – which will be more than doubling of our fleet to keep us safe and to give us the intelligence and information and potentially give us the capacity to hit people who are potentially planning to hit us.”
There is currently no information regrading which aircraft will be selected/provided for the Protector programme, the aircraft are expected to begin replacing Reaper as it leaves service at the end of the decade.