The Shadow surveillance aircraft fleet fleet will be expanded from 6 to 8 aircraft and upgraded to include new defensive systems.

As part of a £110m contract with Raytheon UK, the latest Defensive Aids Systems will also be installed across the fleet of 8 aircraft, increasing its ability to defend itself and operate in unfriendly airspace.

It is expected the first upgraded aircraft will be delivered to the RAF in June 2023, with delivery of the eighth Shadow R2 aircraft before the end of 2025.

You can read about the aircraft in its current form on the Royal Air Force website here.

Defence Minister Jeremy Quin said:

“Our newly upgraded Shadow Mk2 aircraft be equipped with world-leading technology developed right here in the UK. This investment supports vital defence outputs and 150 high-quality jobs in North Wales.”

Welsh Secretary Simon Hart said:

“The signing of this contract with Raytheon is huge news for North Wales and testament to the incredibly skilled local workforce whose hard work, dedication and professionalism have rightly been recognised. This is levelling up in action – the UK Government, working with our partners and using our spending power to support jobs and prosperity in every part of the UK. Today that levelling up is happening in Broughton with the signing of this £110 million contract.”

Shadow Programme Senior Responsible Owner, Group Captain Shaun Gee RAF said:

“This investment will enable the Shadow fleet to be increased in size and equipped with the latest technology providing a key capability as part of the RAF’s next generation Air Force.”

DE&S CEO, Sir Simon Bollom, said:

“This contract is the result of collaborative working between DE&S and industry and ensures the RAF has the world-class capability needed to protect the UK’s interests against ever-evolving threats.”

The Ministry of Defence say that the investment for an upgraded Shadow fleet forms part of the vision laid out in the Defence Command Paper, “which is ensuring that the Armed Forces are prepared for new and emerging threats. This ambition is underpinned by a £24 billion increase in defence spending over next four years”.

Photo by RHL Images [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons.

What does Shadow do?

Based at RAF Waddington and flown by 14 Squadron, Shadow forms a key part of the RAF’s Intelligence, Surveillance, Target Acquisition and Reconnaissance (ISTAR) force by gathering intelligence via its high-definition electro-optical and electronic sensors.

Once the data is gathered, satellite communication links enable the information to be assessed while the aircraft is airborne during a mission.

Subscribe
Notify of
guest
59 Comments
oldest
newest
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Daniele Mandelli
Daniele Mandelli
7 days ago

What is not mentioned is that in the meantime the Defenders from 5 Reg AAC which briefly were transferred to the RAF have been disposed of, along with the Islanders. The Islanders of the Northolt Station Flight have also been replaced by contractor owned and operated aircraft. Both these fleets, especially those at Northolt, carried out UK based surveillance on behalf of the Security Service ( and probably GCHQ ) in the monitoring of mobile phone communications of terrorists and their sympathisers, who are numerous in our own country. The aircraft circle over areas of interest and data link the… Read more »

Levi Goldsteinberg
Levi Goldsteinberg
7 days ago

Every time just when I think there is positive news!

Daniele Mandelli
Daniele Mandelli
7 days ago

It is!!! But you know they give with one hand and take with the other! 😆

George Parker
George Parker
6 days ago

That mission is better suited to long loiter time drones and other assets. This is not the forum to discus active security platforms. Just saying.

Last edited 6 days ago by George Parker
Daniele Mandelli
Daniele Mandelli
6 days ago
Reply to  George Parker

Morning George. I will expand on that so all are aware. All I outlined, note I did not go into greater detail, is available on the internet if one looks. Type those aircrafts role into Google. It is open knowledge to people who follow this sort of thing, of course not well known to the majority of the uninterested public. Even I, as an “outsider” never in the military or working for MoD, could go into detail this very moment of things not public knowledge that I have discovered in my ongoing research. Mostly features and locations. Which I do… Read more »

Supportive Bloke
Supportive Bloke
7 days ago

Now that there are direct GCHQ backdoor connections to all mobile networks why bother actually intercepting the radio signals when it can be done off the fibre backbone in bulk?

In the past it was interesting to see who was physically in the vicinity of the phone of interest and this was the easiest way of mapping it.

Daniele Mandelli
Daniele Mandelli
7 days ago

I don’t know.
Maybe this is better WRT supporting A4 teams on the ground in real time along with their other techniques.
More than likely the aircraft are using other sensors too.
The tech stuff of all this fascinates me but is way, way over my head.

expat
expat
7 days ago

Because not everything passes through fibre.

Supportive Bloke
Supportive Bloke
7 days ago
Reply to  expat

All cell mast backhaul does at some point go through fibre.

Yes, there are mast to mast microwave hops but these go to fibre at the base mast.

Expat
Expat
7 days ago

I’ll take your word for it I know in Asia some parts networks are microwave only. I’d assumed more remote parts of the UK this may also be the case.

Supportive Bloke
Supportive Bloke
7 days ago
Reply to  Expat

It still goes back to fibre and therein back to the network switching.

So if the conversation is between two phones on the same mast the data transits from the mast to the switch.

5G is a tiny bit different as in some cases only the routing packets go on the loop and the protocol does, depending how it is implemented, allow for phone -> mast -> phone data transmission. The reason this isn’t often implemented is that this causes problems with mast -> mast handoffs.

James Fennell
James Fennell
7 days ago

Daniele, I thought Shadow was due to go up to 10 airframes? – or has that changed? My uncle flew for 14 Squadron – MIA in April 1943 flying a B-26A (Marauder I) from Malta (showing my age) – so I take a lot of interest in this squadron. http://aircrewremembered.com/editorial/resources/marauder-marki-fk375-january-1943-courtesy-iwm-2-w800-w800.png

Last edited 7 days ago by James Fennell
Daniele Mandelli
Daniele Mandelli
7 days ago
Reply to  James Fennell

Yes that sounds familiar. I don’t know.
14, another long lost Fast jet outfit.

julian1
julian1
7 days ago

ex Tornado I think, disbanded (as Tornado) about 8 years ago

Daniele Mandelli
Daniele Mandelli
7 days ago
Reply to  julian1

Yes, GR4A’s with RAPTOR pod. RAF had 2 such squadrons.
13 and 14 from memory.

James Fennell
James Fennell
7 days ago

Ahh RAPTOR – we bought our DB-110 pods too early, they are much more compact now (derived from the TR1/U-2 sensors). Unfortunately RAPTOR was too bulky to fit between Typhoon’s more elegant legs.

Blue Fuzz
Blue Fuzz
7 days ago
Reply to  James Fennell

An increase to 8 airframes was announced in Nov 15 – only 10 years before the 8th is now due to be delivered apparently 🤔🙄

John Stevens
John Stevens
7 days ago

Interesting information l must say..

Daniele Mandelli
Daniele Mandelli
7 days ago
Reply to  John Stevens

Yes mate.
There’s is more out there on this area if your interested. Certain locations, and how it all connects together.

John Stevens
John Stevens
7 days ago

😎
Would be interesting to read some more information on this subject.

James Fennell
James Fennell
7 days ago

Less demand after Afghan / Iraq, I guess the RAF argued to keep and expand the UOR Shadows and lost Defender / Islander as collateral damage.

Daniele Mandelli
Daniele Mandelli
7 days ago
Reply to  James Fennell

Likely reason, yes.

DaveyB
DaveyB
7 days ago
Reply to  James Fennell

The King Air 350 is just a better aircraft for this role. It has longer legs, more cabin space and more importantly its pressurized, so can cruise at 30,000ft out of range of Manpads.

Marked
Marked
7 days ago

I wouldn’t fancy flying in unfriendly airspace in one of those regardless of the defensive systems fitted!

They might be very good at what they do but I can’t see any prospect of surviving in airspace that’s anything but in our back pocket.

Jay R
Jay R
7 days ago
Reply to  Marked

Like most of the ISTAR fleets in NATO. That is why there are F-35s, F-22s, Eurofighters etc – i.e. Air Dominance. Makes the airspace safe(r) for the slow movers.

James Fennell
James Fennell
7 days ago
Reply to  Marked

Mostly used for counter-terrorism work in support of SF – greyzone platform. Not really designed for peer level warfighting.

John Hartley
John Hartley
7 days ago

Will the new 2 be based on the 360, rather than the 350 of the current ones?

Steve M
Steve M
7 days ago

Not really sure gaining 2 Shadows is a good replacement for the loss of 5 Sentinel ?

Daniele Mandelli
Daniele Mandelli
7 days ago
Reply to  Steve M

Different roles and capabilities, so not replacements as such.
Agree, I’d prefer the Sentinels.
And these extra aircraft were announced years ago in SDSR15.
Most of those pluses regards the RAF have been reversed.
Herc run on cancelled. Typhoon Tranche 1 to 2030 cancelled.

James Fennell
James Fennell
7 days ago
Reply to  Steve M

Different role entirely – really replacing the Islanders used domestically.

Paul.P
Paul.P
7 days ago
Reply to  James Fennell

In Northern Ireland?

James Fennell
James Fennell
7 days ago
Reply to  Paul.P

Perhaps, but primarily to counter Islamic extremists. Also used overseas to support SF.

Challenger
Challenger
7 days ago

Am I missing something? I remember 2 additional Shadows being touted in the 2015 SDSR so not really new news and by the time they are actually added to the fleet it’ll have taken a decade!

Meanwhile Sentinel and the Islanders and Defenders have been withdrawn without replacement whilst Sentry has also gone with a gap until Wedgetail appears.

Critical enablers are what allies value and need far more than a squadron or jets or light infantry battalions but are too often salami sliced away because they aren’t cool or sexy capabilities to flaunt.

Lusty
Lusty
7 days ago
Reply to  Challenger

I’m glad at least two others here have the same recollection re. 2015. I thought I was going crazy for a moment!

James Fennell
James Fennell
7 days ago
Reply to  Lusty

This is why I thought it was 10 – its been announced twice – now and 6 years ago!

Dave G
Dave G
6 days ago
Reply to  James Fennell

This article states that the fleet is getting extra airframes and the whole fleet is getting upgrades from the mk1 standard. SDSR presumably announced the approved requirement and the funding line in principle being put in place so a formal user / system requirement could be defined and a request for proposal for the new standard and extra 2 could be given to the supplier. This article also mentions an actual contract to supply so presumably that means the supplier has given a suitable proposal back, passed all the hurdles and been contracted to actually deliver the solution…. This is… Read more »

Daniele Mandelli
Daniele Mandelli
7 days ago
Reply to  Challenger

Agreed. Cutting the enablers is bonkers. Largs Bay was one of the worst.
Idiotic.
Hercs now almost as bad.

Challenger
Challenger
7 days ago

ISTAR, tankers, strategic lift, RFA’s SSN’s….all the stuff most allies lack and yet the stuff we do on the cheap or continually hack away at!

Lusty
Lusty
7 days ago

Just to add an almost on-topic note: four more Texans will be purchased to support training activities.

Daniele Mandelli
Daniele Mandelli
7 days ago
Reply to  Lusty

I’d spotted that. I also saw in a spotter friends guidebook of serial numbers on UK mil register that a further 7 Posiedon serial numbers are “reserved for RAF”

Would they know something we don’t? Such a purchase would cause meltdown here.

Lusty
Lusty
7 days ago

Excuse me while I clean my screen after reading that. To clarify, I just spat out my tea (imaginary tea).

It certainly would cause a meltdown, though some have suspected it and debated it for a few months now.

I saw the desire for MFTS too.

Edit to add: http://www.ukserials.com/ (ZP) 🙏

Last edited 7 days ago by Lusty
Daniele Mandelli
Daniele Mandelli
7 days ago
Reply to  Lusty

Yes, ZP. Thanks for the link mate.
Just noted it’s 6, not 7 as said.
How reliable is this sort of thing?
Have allocated serials remained unfulfilled before?

Lusty
Lusty
7 days ago

Normally such sites are fairly accurate, but as with anything, some aspects should be taken with a pinch of salt. The site links through to ‘demobbed’ and their descriptions of the locations and conditions of some airframes are on point – even listing the harrier cockpit that was seen on PoW. I’ve used it before to help keep track of some old cabs. It’s worth noting that the serials stated are correct. ZM135 for the first F35, ZP801 for the first Poseidon. Note how the first aircraft’s serial relates to a number used to describe the aircraft. Serials follow on… Read more »

Last edited 7 days ago by Lusty
Steve
Steve
7 days ago
Reply to  Lusty

C17 production stopped a while ago, not sure there would be any available to buy. Maybe just registered in case and left forgotten when the original desired number was cut.

Lusty
Lusty
7 days ago
Reply to  Steve

I knew there would be one to say this and I knew I should have stated that in my post!

Yes, production ceased. The only choice they would have would be to buy surplus/stored airframes. I think that’s what I wanted to imply with an increase to 10.

Challenger
Challenger
7 days ago

The MFTS numbers always seemed way too thin from the start. More Texans and more helicopters didn’t surprise me in the slightest!

If anymore Poseidon’s did emerge you’d think/hope they would have an additional overland ISTAR capability to also offer a Sentinel replacement.

16 with 10-12 pure MPA’s and 4-6 swing-role would be a handsome fleet.

James Fennell
James Fennell
7 days ago

Cool

Daniele Mandelli
Daniele Mandelli
7 days ago
Reply to  Lusty

And they want to increase the yearly pilot numbers output in the MFTS.

Ian Skinner
Ian Skinner
4 minutes ago
Reply to  Lusty

you mean the ones that can’t fly over water?

James H
James H
7 days ago

Great news but it’s all smoke and mirrors, you increase the numbers of a relatively cheap aircraft but lose the sentinels and sentrys with the latter replaced with fewer airframes and i do appreciate they all do different jobs.
They boast about the increased funding but day to day funding is actually reduced by a billion a year.
Although this is positive i cant help but feel if there wasn’t the constant need to put spin on everything there might actually be an honest conversation on the state of the military.

James Fennell
James Fennell
7 days ago
Reply to  James H

Cheap airframe, but full of GCHQ’s finest tech and people, so not cheap at all at a system level. The airframe is the least of it.

Last edited 7 days ago by James Fennell
Steve
Steve
7 days ago
Reply to  James H

The funding is an interesting one. I think this is unlikely, but it’s possible that with the NAO publishing budget gap as a range from likely to worst case, and the media constantly jumping only on the worst case figures, that the MOD is trying to reduce the negative media and focusing buying/selling decisions around the worst case figures, meaning there will be spare cash available when the current purchases are delivered.

Paul.P
Paul.P
7 days ago

So this is the plan to replace Sentinel?

James Fennell
James Fennell
7 days ago
Reply to  Paul.P

No, the plan (under Project Babelfish) to replace Sentinel is to put data nodes on Voyager and the Project Vixen uncrewed RN tankers linked ot the combat cloud. This is the same approach as the USAF are taking with JSTARS. The radar and sensors on F-35 and the new Radar 02 on Typhoon are incredible, add to that input from sensors on sattelites, Mosquito, Wedgetail, Posiedon, Merlin, Protector, Watchkeeper, Zephr, Wilcat as well as ground and naval sensors a lot of data is around. Data nodes allow this data to be fused into a single picture and a team on… Read more »

Last edited 7 days ago by James Fennell
Daniele Mandelli
Daniele Mandelli
6 days ago
Reply to  James Fennell

Very interesting. I’m not a subscriber so I could not read the whole article but got the gist with your post, thanks.

Daniele Mandelli
Daniele Mandelli
7 days ago
Reply to  Paul.P

Sentinel carried radar to monitor ground movements far beyond front line.
( enemy armour, troop concentrations, and so on )

Shadow listens to comms, but in a CT role, initially overseas with a SF focus and now seemingly in the UK in support of domestic CT.

Different roles.

Paul.P
Paul.P
7 days ago

Thx. I was thinking about Mali. Notwithstanding that Macron wants to pull out the French forces we have been supporting with Sentinel what replaces that functionality?

Daniele Mandelli
Daniele Mandelli
7 days ago
Reply to  Paul.P

Maybe Reapers? I think it has differing sensors to Sentinel. Was OK for Afghan roles.

George Parker
George Parker
6 days ago

Nice to see the miniaturisation of surveillance equipment paying off with smaller airframes.