A £65 million contract has been awarded to build the UK’s first three Protector drones.

Protector is the world’s first certified Remotely Piloted Air System (RPAS), enabling it to fly in busy, unsegregated airspace, including civilian airspace, thanks to its ground-breaking ‘detect and avoid’ technology.

Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said:

“The UK is proving once again that we are a world leader in defence technology. 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. 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.”

Protector remotely piloted air system.

According to the Ministry of Defence:

“Its ability to fly consistently for up to 40 hours will offer the RAF vastly improved armed intelligence and reconnaissance sorties. The innovative fleet will also have advanced anti-icing and lightning protection, providing the RAF with unprecedented flexibility to operate in extreme weather conditions. Protector also comes with enhanced data links and will carry next-generation, low collateral, precision strike weapons – the UK-made Brimstone missile (MBDA) and Paveway IV Laser Guided Bomb (Raytheon UK).”

The contract follows the development phase by manufacturers General Atomics Aeronautical Systems which will build the first three Protector aircraft, plus three ground control stations and other associated support equipment. It also includes an option to build 13 more aircraft and four ground control stations, which will complete the current planned fleet of 16 aircraft, more than doubling the capability currently provided by Reaper.

 

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Mark F

Will we ever get to a fleet of 20? Having said that these things scare the pants off me.

Cam

Hmm, wasn’t it 20 we were supposed to be buying, replacing 10 reapers? Doubling our numbers.. 40 hours is long, but couldn’t we have a refuelling/supply Drone to refuel these drones meaning they could stay on mission for a week or far longer? Just a thought.

Gunbuster

Why bother? Send another one up to relieve the one on station and have it return for refuel and overhaul.
Keep it simple and straight forward. There is less to go wrong and you are not messing around with expensive refuelling drones or modifications.

Cam

I was just thinking of longer range and time on mission, but if there’s bases are close by then fair enough. I would love to see a drone that can operate for weeks on station, and surely they don’t need an overhaul every 40hrs.

Robert Blay

That would just be a waste of money, that could be spent on another couple of Protectors. These aircraft might not be as sexy as a Typhoon or F35, but will be hugely capable bits of kit, that will also work alongside side our P8’s and P7’s.

Daniele Mandelli

I was wondering about that Robert. Do they have any utility in the maritime domain if UK based and working with P8?

Robert Blay

I believe so, they could be very useful for SAR operations with a 40hr endurance, as well as sub hunting/surveillance 👍

Daniele Mandelli

Agree. Never seen one as the buggers are always in the Middle East. Hopefully they are based in the UK one day.

Robert Blay

I think these will be stationed at Waddington. Seen a Reaper up close, they are much bigger then they look in pictures, the wing span is huge.

Daniele Mandelli

Looking at Protector vs Reaper, this looks bigger still.

Waddington the obvious choice being the ISTAR hub. I would have put them in Kinloss myself.

Cam

Great idea, kinloss it is then, all agreed. We just need to get the squadies out of there first, I know a few mingers I could tempt them with in foress.

julian1

one of the reasons Reaper doesn’t fly in UK airspace is because it can’t for safety reasons (hence ME or USA.) Protector I think can, so you are likely to see them at Waddington.

Cam

On the contrary these things are sexy, I think more so as they can do real damage Anywhere and you wouldn’t Evenknow they are there. Scary in a way, if I was a terrorist in the Middle East I would be crapping my pants every night going to sleep…knowing Ahmed and Mohammad Were blown to bits by a silent stalker/killer the other night..

Cam

Ok ok it’s a stupid idea having a refueling drone!

Rfn_Weston

Is the image accurate then? 12 Brimstone per drone? Pretty good offensive capability really.

Ben

Protector can employ 18 Brimstone. 3 hardpoints per wing, with the inner ones able to mount a single Paveway IV. So either 18 Brimstone or 12 Brimstone and 2 Paveway IV.

BB85

Is it correct that the UK is the first customer for this varient. Is there any specific UK equipment or is it all US. Very capable assets and low cost bomb trucks. Is there any information on their survivability vs a Typhoon or F35 or does they only work well in uncontested airspace. I’m assuming brimstone has sufficient range to avoid most manpads and short range sams.

JohnG

I too was mulling their use. It’s one thing using them in uncontested airspace, which perhaps may be their standard mode of operation going forwards. I would like to understand more around their survivability in contested airspace, Vs over the horizon weapons and in the maritime domain

pkcasimir

The US Air Force gave a stop order to General Dynamics to stop producing the MQ-9 for the Air Force in February of this year and didn’t request funds for the purchase of any more Predators in its 2021 FY budget request since it believes that the MQ-9 is not survivable on a future battlefield. It is currently studying what needs to replace it. Congress has concerns about that decision and a House committee included funds to purchase more Predators. The Senate will have its say. Congress will probably vote to buy more but it’s clear that the USAF doesn’t… Read more »

Daniele Mandelli

The USAF has the RQ180 waiting, or maybe already entering service.

Light years ahead of Predator, Reaper, and Protector too.

pkcasimir

The RQ180 is a strictly reconnaissance drone. It carries no weapons.

Lordtemplar

Probably 0 survivability in contested air space. MANPADS, fighters, etc… would easily dispatch these drones. Even Global Hawk which flies at much higher altitude was easy target for Iranians not so long ago.
Luckily ISIS etc… have no AA capability, so these drones are still relevant.

RobW

Different beasts but they do the job of a fast jet bomb truck for certain circumstances. We tend to forget that when complaining about the number of fast jet squadrons. 16 of these makes another 2 squadrons.

I should work in the Govt ‘spin’ dept……

Lordtemplar

On a related topic.
Soon HMS QE will carry out trials with unmanned drone swarms and loyal wingman. I know that these are to be developed for the future, i didn’t realize that these concepts had actually progressed to flying prototypes to undergo tests. Thought we were still some years away.
https://www.janes.com/defence-news/news-detail/raf-to-trial-unmanned-aircraft-from-royal-navy-carriers

Andy

Very interesting, especially.. “.. the UK was looking to create a carrier-capable unmanned aircraft as part of its wider efforts to develop the Tempest next-generation combat aircraft.“

Daniele Mandelli

Yes, CAS has already mentioned that we will fly Loyal Wingman type UAV from our carriers.
Something to tell DC. Sorry old man, need the carriers to launch YOUR drones.

ETH

Does this mean they’d be some sort of STOVL drone? Or is the QE long enough for conventional take off/landing?

Daniele Mandelli

Will be interesting to see what happens. Maybe will help make up for lack of additional F35?

ETH

I would hope so, can’t have all this tonnage and only put 12 jets on it. Even if the drones are purely reconnaissance/AEW centered.

ETH

I would hope so, can’t have all this tonnage and only put 12 jets on it. Even if the drones are purely reconnaissance/AEW focused.

David

What sort of RCS do these things have ? Looking at the shape I would imagine its quite small. Survivability today is not really about speed altitude or defensive suits, its more about not being seen in the first place. Modern air to air or surface to air missiles are pretty lethal. If it has a small RCS it could be used not only in contested airspace but as a first strike system against ground based SAM’s. A lot better than sending in a very expensive F35 with an even more expensive human being inside. That said all those missiles… Read more »

BB85

The good thing about drones being a fraction of the price of fighter aircraft is that you can lose some without a major issue. Israel used UAVs as far back as the 90s as cannon fodder to identify Sam sites.

Glass Half Full

Taranis has a weapons bay and is certainly far more stealthy so actually an already flying platform. A product based on Taranis is likely to be part of the Tempest program with a post-2030 capability.

T.S

A supersonic Taranis would make a fantastic reconnaissance aircraft with a strike capability for non permissive environments. One with the rolls royce lift fan could also augment our carrier capability. I have wondered whether the Taranis could be scaled up to make a medium sized deep strike bomber for highly protected airspace? It is a capability we just dont have, and an area that all the big powers are investing heavily in. Whilst I’m not suggesting we should be looking at a large fleet of heavy bombers, those days are gone, a couple of squadrons of XL tarainis with a… Read more »

Glass Half Full

When considering what aircraft results from Tempest I would focus on what is THE most important conventional deterrent IMV; an ability to rapidly degrade a state of the art Integrated Air Defence System. Destroy or significantly degrade an adversaries IADS and we leave their heavy weaponry and logistics tail exposed to air attack. This is critical in the case of Russia since its IADS already covers large swaths of the Baltic States, Poland and Northern Norway before the ground equipment even leaves Russian territory. We don’t want to have to defend under that umbrella if we can avoid it. So… Read more »

julian1

A robot using AI to select and prosecute targets is truly frightening….if you totally take the human out of the loop or the human IN the loop is overwhelmed with workload across other drones

Rob Collinson

Spot the spin:

“ the current planned fleet of 16 aircraft, more than doubling the capability currently provided by Reaper.”

We have 10 Reapers, currently. (Data taken from the government published data)

I teach Philosophy not mathematics, but more than doubling current fleet would be 20+ not up to 16.

Am I missing the point?

BB85

Will be need to scrap reaper when protectors comes into service. I know protector will be approved to fly through congestered airspace but reaper can still serve as a platform until it is shot down I presume.

Andy

Yes, they are referring to capability. It’s good.

Glass Half Full

There seem to be three figures for the potential fleet, 16, 20 and 26 according to Janes reporting.
https://www.janes.com/defence-news/news-detail/uk-signs-for-first-three-protector-uavs

Rob Collinson

You can get your whole salary on the fact that it will be the smallest number!!

Then we will get into a conflict and have to do a rush purchase as we did with the Reapers we have now.

Glass Half Full

Well you may be correct. But the appeal of these platforms to bean counters is that they are a significantly lower cost alternative to purchase and operate, versus putting flight hours on Typhoons or F35s that need a very expensive and rare commodity in the form of the pilot. With their endurance they can be far more persistent in permissive environments too.

Rob Collinson

We should keep their Reapers and send a flight of the to The Falklands to do the ‘patrol’ element of protecting our South Atlantic assets.

Cam Els

Reaper/Protector doesn’t have a Maritime radar and EO/IR isn’t a suitable area search sensor. GA have flown podded radars slung beneath MQ9s though so conversions could be done?

Rudeboy

We don’t have 10 Reapers…

1 has been written off. And another is ‘awaiting repair’, but is likely never to fly again. Another was lost in 2008, but an additional one was ordered. In total we’ve had 11 MQ-9.

But right now we’re down to 8.

Steve R

Personally I think we should buy either 30 Protectors or keep our current 10 Reapers in addition to the planned 20 Protectors.

It beats having to use Typhoons for CAS missions, wearing out their airframes. I worry that our 140-ish Typhoons will be down to around 80 or so by the time Tempest enters service, because the airframes will be knackered.

More cheap drones like Protector could stop that.

Rudeboy

We don’t have 10 Reapers any more. 2 have sustained severe damage and will never fly again. We’re down to 8.

Steve R

Pretty much proves my point further, then; no depth to defence, no way to replace losses.

Christopher

If an enemy targets satellites. Will these things still be able to operate?