General Atomics has been awarded a $80,869,382 contract action for the United Kingdom MQ-9B Protector program. The contract provides for design, development, integration, and component level testing. 

The UK is investing in an initial 16 Protector aircraft, manufactured by General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc. An important aspect of upcoming work will be to ensure that Protector complies with national and international airspace and safety regulations.

According to a contract notice:

“Work will be performed in Poway, California, and is expected to be complete by Aug. 31, 2021.  This contract involves 100 percent foreign military sales to the United Kingdom. This award is the result of a sole-source acquisition.

Foreign military sales funds in the amount of $33,523,382 are being obligated at the time of award. Air Force Life Cycle Management Center, Medium Altitude Unmanned Aircraft Systems Division, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, is the contracting activity (FA8620-18-C-2009).”

A small team of Royal Air Force personnel based in the United States is preparing the way for the introduction into service of the UK’s new remotely piloted air system, the MQ-9B Protector, say the RAF.

The Protector Combined Test Team (CTT) comprises experienced pilots, sensor operators and engineers from the Royal Air Force, industry partners and the US Air Force who are coordinating the testing and evaluation of the Protector system, which will replace the MQ-9 Reaper in RAF service.

Wing Commander Iain Hutchinson, Head of the test team, said:

“Protector represents a step change in RPAS capability and all of us in the CTT are genuinely excited about bringing the platform into frontline service with the Royal Air Force.

Reaper has been very successful and continues to deliver on operations in the Middle East. Protector promises to expand upon Reaper’s long-range surveillance and precision strike capabilities.  By complementing existing and future ISTAR and Combat Air capabilities such as the F-35 Lightning II, it will meet the needs of UK Defence worldwide for decades to come.”

The RAF say this will be the first aircraft of its kind to be certified in this way, allowing it to operate safely and effectively in a wide variety of environments and locations, including support of humanitarian relief operations.

 

40 COMMENTS

    • I suspect 16 in total, is the real plan.

      Why would you order 16 and then order another 4 at a later date, it would be far more economically efficient to place a single order of 20. I can semi understand spreading the buy for the 190 odd F35, but not 20.

      • Yes an old trick of MoD.

        Start with higher number, with words “up to” then the rest silently disappear.

        I’m happy with 16. Considering we did not have this capability a decade or so ago this is excellent. Few nations have this capability.

        Must not replace fast jets though, only compliment.

          • And as more up to date Jamming and electronic warfare methods are developed, the need for manned pilots will return.

        • Agreed 16 isn’t bad, considering it is a 60% upgrade on the current 10 reapers, but considering the massively reduced costs involved in using drones over the typhoon / tornado, i do wonder why we are not investing more heavily in them.

          • As Dave says.

            OK for bombing people who can barely fight back.
            Against an enemy within a modern air defence system?

          • Realistically can you see the UK operating in anything other than permissive airspace in the near or middle term? Especially considering how badly we have invested in the basics in recent years, as demonstrated in afgan/iraq

            We have a limited defence budget and should spend it where we are likely to need it, yes of course we need to also invest in the worst case, but it shouldn’t be the primary focus.

            Also consider that the typhoon is untested against air defence and probably is weak, especially considering the weaknesses identified with the tornado in the gulf war 1 and the need for the growler for protection. Ok the f35 will probably fix that, and we are getting them, but maybe they shouldn’t be used for low intensity roles, so as to save costs.

            Invest in drones, and save money on realistic operations, so the saved money can be spent on the contingency gear, rather than spending huge amounts of money using high end jets for low intensity operations.

          • Well yes Steve I agree with not using high end for low intensity, seems obvious to me.

            I think a balance is needed so a mix of Typhoon, F35 and Protector seems OK to me.

            After we need Taranis or UCAV derivative.

          • For Typhoon/Protector to operate in an near peer/peer environment without F35s, they need an Anti Radiation missile. The last missile the RAF had was the Alarm which in most respects was better than the Harm as it had a loiter capability. Without Alarm the RAF has lost its SEAD capability. It can use LGBs in toss attacks but you have to get really close. It could also use Storm Shadow, but you need to know of the targets location before firing. Brimestone possibly, but again you need to be close to the SAM system. I don’t think the Spear program has been designed for anti radiation targets, more fixed high value targets.
            I can see the F35s doing all the SEAD work prior to any strikes by Typhoon or Protector.

  1. With the RAF set to be equipped with two of the most advanced fast jets in the world, the Typhoon and F-35, it strikes me that the drones are being asked to fill the gaps left from the retirement of the “lower end” fast jets such as the Jaguar. Whether 16-20 Protectors can deliver the same capabilities as the 165 single-seat Jaguars originally in service with the RAF?

    • No. But remember the Jaguar was superseded by the Tornado GR1, and the Jags reduced to 3 squadrons, 6, 41, 54 at Coltishall.

      So 165 Number not really relevant.

      With the advanced ISTAR capabilities as well as Brimstone and LGB which the Jags lacked.

      • Also, and I’m hoping this is a rhetorical question, are the drones sufficiently mechanically simpler than something like a Jaguar (simpler engines, none of the systems required to keep a pilot alive, etc) such that serviceability ratios are far higher for a drone vs a manned combat jet? If yes then, depending on how much better the percentage of the fleet available at any one time is vs a fast combat jet, 20 Protector might actually equate to 40 or even 60 Jaguar in terms of operational aircraft at any given time. If you then factor in the greater endurance and loiter time of Protector vs something like Jaguar meaning that a single Protector mission might give the same loiter time in a battle space as multiple Jaguar missions and all of a sudden the numbers aren’t massively out of whack with each other in terms of battlefield presence. OK, that last point (loiter time) doesn’t work for missions launched against a specific target from the outset but a lot of U.K. drone work has involved a lot of loitering I think.

        All in all very good news to see this moving forward. These should be be big, long-legged and capable drones and, if we do get to the “at least 20 that was originally announced, also in numbers that look quite respectable relative to our close European allies such as France.

        • The Jaguar was a close air support and interdiction aircraft designed to fly low below radar targeting the Soviet war machine. The Protector is primarily an air surveillance aircraft with the ability to fire guided weapons (LGB and Hellfire). The main weapon of the Jag during the cold war was the cluster bomb as its main job was to target logistic support and laagered up vehicles. To carry out these missions the Jag had RWR, ESM and a jammer. The Protector does not have any of these survival aids. Therefore, I believe the number that has been ordered is sufficient if the aircraft is only to be used in a surveillance or counter insurgency roles. To operate the Protector in a high threat environment, the aircraft will need additional DAS equipment which will massively push up the costs.

  2. Another question.

    With these advanced versions of Reaper being cleared to fly in normal airspace ( so I read and understand but may be wrong ) will we finally see the type based in the UK or will they be permanently stored in a box “somewhere” in the Middle East or at Akrotiri?

    Apart from Watchkeeper’s out of Aberporth and Salisbury Plain I don’t believe a RPAS such as this has ever flown here, certainly not the Predator, Reaper.

    Only the GCS is in the UK.

  3. British tanks are defenceless- really? I challenge you to approach a challenger 2 at night with an RPG or Anti tank missile and see if you can get close enough in a combat situation to take the tank out before you get hit by machine gun rounds or its defensive screen of infantry, APC’s, IFV’s, top cover aka apache D/E etc.
    In the 2nd Iraq war a challenger 2 was hit more than a dozen times by RPG, Milan mark 1s etc and no crew were injured the armour was not penetrated and the tank returned to base, was patched up and was back out on patrol in less than 48 hours.
    No other tank in the world could take that punishment, return its crew unharmed and fight another day.

  4. Simply saying that something is “defenceless” is a pretty meaningless statement without further context. It’s all relative. Everything that I can think of on the battlefield is defenceless against a tactical nuke let alone an ICBM. It’s how something fares against the level of threat it is expected to be exposed to that matters.

  5. Afternoon all
    16 is a good place to start and for the missions these platforms will be asked to perform it could mean supporting 2 operations at the same time (1 in 5 rule) and have enough for training and reserve.
    I would suggest however that in normal times only one op will be covered which then meets all required harmony guidelines and keeps the fleet fresh on hours.
    This is good news guys, utilising these aircraft will free up FJ capability for more intense operational tastings.
    Don’t get fixated on the numbers, look at what the RAF are trying to achieve and how they are trying to do it.
    These platforms will give years of service and will give the RAF years of experience in operating UCAV type platforms.

    Now in is time for the RN to invest in a Scan Eagle replacement, a real force multiplier that gives a single vessel enhanced eyes and ears for very little cost.

        • Our Reapers already provide full motion video. As I suspect do the Shadows and the Defenders too. With the data links to forward.

          I’m talking about Sigint not photo recc like Raptor on the GR4A.

          Our Canberras of 39 PRU were our TR-1 equivalent but officially only carried out mapping.

          Same with the Islanders at Northolt. “Light Communication roles” say the RAF. Yeah right.

  6. Morning
    Both require pods and more electrical power but both doable.
    Don’t forget communications relay.
    There is a lot that can be done with this platform, we can only hope the RAF fully realise them.

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