A £195 million contract for a further 13 Protector uncrewed aircraft has been signed, bringing the total to 16.

Defence Minister Jeremy Quin announced the new contract during a visit to GKN Aerospace (GKNA), who are manufacturing key parts of aircraft on the Isle of Wight.

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).”

Infographic of the Protector drone with information surrounding it and a backdrop of desert

Defence Minister Jeremy Quin said:

“Our fleet of sixteen Protector aircraft equipped with ultra-modern technology will provide the RAF with a vast global reach allowing us to monitor and protect the battlespace for hours on end.

The Protector programme involves industry across the UK with vital parts of the aircraft manufactured on the Isle of Wight, supporting highly-skilled jobs for years to come.”

The commitment to a 16-strong Protector fleet was outlined in the Defence Command Paper.

Protector Programme Senior Responsible Owner, Air Commodore Richard Barrow said:

“The contract for the additional 13 Protector aircraft, taking the total to 16, is a major milestone for the UK. When Protector enters service in 2024, UK Defence will take an enormous jump forward in capability, giving us the ability to operate globally with this cutting-edge, highly-adaptable platform.”

CEO of Defence Equipment and Support, Sir Simon Bollom said:

“I am delighted the purchase of a further 13 Protector aircraft has been confirmed enabling us to ensure the RAF will have the increased capability needed to operate effectively in the modern battlespace.”

The Ministry of Defence also say that later this year, Protector’s capability will be demonstrated in the UK. A SkyGuardian aircraft will take to the skies in Lincolnshire before taking part in Exercise Joint Warrior from RAF Lossiemouth.

“Protector will have to meet stringent NATO and UK safety certification standards meaning it could operate in civilian airspace. It therefore will also be available, if requested, to support civilian agencies in the UK, for example in search and rescue and disaster response missions.

The fleet will also have advanced anti-icing and lightning protection, providing the RAF with unprecedented flexibility to operate in adverse weather conditions. The aircraft will use enhanced data links and carry next-generation, low collateral, precision strike weapons – the UK-made Brimstone missile and Paveway IV Laser Guided Bomb.”

Last year, the UK’s first Protector RG Mk1 aircraft has successfully completed its first flight after coming off the production line, say the Ministry of Defence.

UK’s first Protector RG Mk1 successfully completes first flight

You can read more about the first flight here.

The first three aircraft were ordered last year, with the first two completed and currently undergoing test and evaluation in the US. The first aircraft delivery to the RAF will be in 2023.

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Challenger
Challenger
6 days ago

At what point was the ‘more than 20’ statement quietly dropped?

Bit of a woolly name I’ve always thought. What will they protect people from? Life perhaps when they rain fire from above!

James
James
6 days ago
Reply to  Challenger

😂😂😂

Daniele Mandelli
Daniele Mandelli
6 days ago
Reply to  Challenger

I don’t think the hand wringing brigade could have coped with “Scavanger”

James H
James H
6 days ago

I know there is the argument for always getting more but is it enough when its hoped they will supplement the Poseidons and supplement so much more

Mike
Mike
6 days ago

Now Protector is a much more public friendly sounding name than Reaper or Predator. No change in the role, it just sounds nicer.

dan
dan
6 days ago

I wonder if Britain has been allowed to purchase the stealthy American drones that have been flying for years? Would be nice to have a few of those.

Andy a
Andy a
6 days ago
Reply to  dan

Which ones?

Daniele Mandelli
Daniele Mandelli
6 days ago
Reply to  dan

Cor not much.

A small squadron of RQ180s, ta very much

Kirk
Kirk
5 days ago
Reply to  dan

No chance. That’s probably much higher clearance than the F-22. The RQ 180 is meant to be an AWACS and general networker on top of a stealth drone.

Robert Blay.
Robert Blay.
6 days ago

Excellent news 👍

Trevor Holcroft
Trevor Holcroft
5 days ago
Reply to  Robert Blay.

Yes, despite all the inevitable moans.

RobW
RobW
6 days ago

So this is the order to bring it up to already announced numbers. Not really “more” then.

I read that we have an option to buy another 12 and that they could be the marinised version to augment the P8s. Hope that’s true.

Trevor Holcroft
Trevor Holcroft
5 days ago
Reply to  RobW

We ordered 3.
We have now ordered 13 more
What don’t you follow with the word “more”.

RobW
RobW
5 days ago

More than the 16 already announced, not difficult to understand.

James
James
5 days ago
Reply to  RobW

It is being mildly pedantic, the title is not incorrect in the fact that 13 ‘more’ than the initial 3 have been ordered.

No where does it state that we have ordered more than the original procurement plan.

Tommo
Tommo
6 days ago

What is the maximum length of flight time compared to the much friendlier named Predator and where would these Assets be controlled from UK, Nevada, or Fwd control positions ?

Daniele Mandelli
Daniele Mandelli
6 days ago
Reply to  Tommo

UK in a secure hanger at RAF Waddington and at Indian Springs, Nevada, where RAF personnel are embedded with USAF.

Tommo
Tommo
6 days ago

Thanks ,for that Danniele a little piece of British overseas Sovereign territory in the USA

Daniele Mandelli
Daniele Mandelli
6 days ago
Reply to  Tommo

Morning Tommo.

Not quite, I believe that facility is very much American. We are guests there, like at Dam Neck and other places in the UK where US personnel embed with UK forces. RAF Pilots might well be flying US as well as UK Reapers.

Tommo
Tommo
5 days ago

REAPERS.PREDATORS GLOBAL HAWK all aggressive in name and abilities Protecter ,traffic control eye in the sky for live .motoring updates if motorways are required as runways ??? Just being bloody cynical today must be the heat

Robert Blay.
Robert Blay.
3 days ago
Reply to  Tommo

40hr endurance.

Tommo
Tommo
3 days ago
Reply to  Robert Blay.

Cheers Robert Controller’s better drink lots of Caffeine enriched Coffee

Daniele Mandelli
Daniele Mandelli
6 days ago

Good news.

Would have been better if it had been 13 more in addition to the 16 planned! Which was how I first interpreted the headline.

Lusty
Lusty
6 days ago

You and me both, mate!

Do you remember when they mentioned ~25 of these were to be procured? Or am I imagining that?

Daniele Mandelli
Daniele Mandelli
6 days ago
Reply to  Lusty

Sorry mate, i dont recall that. I recall 20.

However, these are more than our 10 Reaper and better. We will take it.

Lusty
Lusty
5 days ago

Ah, maybe it was 20. That rings a bell.

I have too many numbers rattling around in my head.

Edit: I would agree that it’s more than the Reaper numbers, but at the moment, these airframes are being asked to also replace other types that are leaving/are due to leave service. I’ll take 16 but would prefer a few more – particularly as this tech is clearly what they’re aiming to use more of in the future.

Edit 2: I remember where I got 25 from – it was the original A400M order/aspiration number.

Last edited 5 days ago by Lusty
Klonkie
Klonkie
6 days ago

I am concerned this number is woefully inadequate given the past erosion of the RAF “sharp end” squadrons. Logic steers my thinking that a force level of 40 to 60 is required to stand up maybe 3 to 4 sqns? I understand the hard capex costs are sizeable, but they can’t be anywhere near the opex of say a typhoon sqn? It seems the RN is going to land at circa 50% the surface combat assets it had in 1990 (24 ish vessels), which is welcome news. So why is the RAF not funded to maintain 15ish front line combat… Read more »

Daniele Mandelli
Daniele Mandelli
6 days ago
Reply to  Klonkie

Hi K.

Our old bugbear, the lost FJ squadrons.

Seems unthinkable we have gone so low.

Maybe the Loyal Wingman and LANCA type UCAVs will make up some of the lost mass. CAS did suggest as such.

Klonkie
Klonkie
6 days ago

thx Daniele, indeed -fingers crossed on your point re loyal wingman.

Quentin D63
Quentin D63
6 days ago
Reply to  Klonkie

Sorry for my cynicism here, but aren’t all these prop based UAVs very slow moving and surely an easy target for any half decent SAM system? Are they that super stealthy and have decoys like Brite cloud?

Tommo
Tommo
6 days ago
Reply to  Quentin D63

What is the estimated ceiling height for these uavs, hate to see them brought down by something as simple as a real predator ie a trained bird of prey

Daniele Mandelli
Daniele Mandelli
6 days ago
Reply to  Tommo

No chance of that!  😀 

Tommo
Tommo
5 days ago

Just read the glossy colour pitch Medium Alititude long endurance (male) I take it H eight and duration at this time classified armed with paveway hope it’s radar cross-section section is that of a sparrow

Tommo
Tommo
5 days ago
Reply to  Tommo

And no Vapour trail emissions that will please Greta

Klonkie
Klonkie
3 days ago
Reply to  Quentin D63

Hi Quentin sorry re the late reply, I think it’s really about tactics for e.g. brimstone has a stand -off range of about 20km. I imagine the apache fleet faces similar challenges re close air support ,

OkamsRazor
OkamsRazor
6 days ago
Reply to  Klonkie

Woefully? Really!

Klonkie
Klonkie
3 days ago
Reply to  OkamsRazor

a late reply to your point. Sometimes my frustration of 30 years of cuts gets the better of me – I withdraw the “woefully inadequate” to inadequate.

OkamsRazor
OkamsRazor
3 days ago
Reply to  Klonkie

Appreciate your withdrawal of “Woefully”. So your “Inadequate” is based upon careful and considered evaluation of current taskings and sorties? You do off course appreciate that in the last calendar year close to 50% of sorties were carried out by our current drone force, which is less than our planned drone force. I would add that looking at “yesterdays” weapons and saying that we should have the same number today, is not logical or reasonable. Just as looking at the computers of the 70’s and comparing them with smartphones of today, and saying that we should have the same number,… Read more »

Klonkie
Klonkie
3 days ago
Reply to  OkamsRazor

Thank you for the analysis. I understand you are evaluating actual events across a relatively limited engagement. So what maybe fit for purposes in that context, is likely to be insufficient to scale up in a crisis. Some force level of critical mass is needed. The numbers are of course debatable but history show European democracies have often left wanting in a crisis. I cannot give you a definitive number because I don’t know what future events may transpire. The same applies at how we arrive at 50 Apaches or 7 squadrons of Typhoons . Logically 1 UAV unit is… Read more »

OkamsRazor
OkamsRazor
2 days ago
Reply to  Klonkie

Thanks for your kind response. I do appreciate your experience “in a former life” and the need for redundancy. My “former life” being in risk/project management, I hope you don’t object to my trying to move the discussion on to a more “analytical” plane. The reason for my participation in forums like UKDJ is because I have and interest in defence matters and I hope to (and do on occasion) learn from real experience and technical experts. However, there is also a tendency in such forums to disparage all MOD/Political decisions as rubbish or insufficient. Whilst I respectfully agree that… Read more »

Klonkie
Klonkie
2 days ago
Reply to  OkamsRazor

Thanks for the the reply, appreciate your thoughts. Your point re the UK pulling it’s weight is well made. Things could be considerably worse and the current government deserves recognition for shifting the up the budget dial.

Mark Forsyth
Mark Forsyth
6 days ago

Anyone know the rank structure for the RAF personnel who fly them. All Pilots these days seem to be of Officer rank, and the only other ranks who get in the air, are Winchmen, Gunners, and a few on the wide-body craft.
It would be interesting to know if NCO’s and JNCO’s are “crewing” them.
Look forward to someone in the know, explaining the structure.

Daniele Mandelli
Daniele Mandelli
6 days ago
Reply to  Mark Forsyth

No idea but I do believe their ID’s are classified.

Harry Bulpit
Harry Bulpit
5 days ago
Reply to  Mark Forsyth

All pilots and I think navigators and flight engineers are officer now. The only none commission aircrew would be the load masters and cabin crew.

Robert Blay.
Robert Blay.
3 days ago
Reply to  Mark Forsyth

Crews are officer’s. You can now join the RAF from day 1 as a UAV pilot. They undertake the same basic flight training as reqular new pilots (PerfectT1). Before specialising on UAV operations.

Ian Skinner
Ian Skinner
5 days ago

I wonder if the name is a nod to the name of the ship in Galaxy Quest? If so, it is a nice little joke.

Tommo
Tommo
5 days ago
Reply to  Ian Skinner

Wasn’t Tim Allan, the commander he may now be a remote controller as well for the sequel Allan verses Protecter sorry about the limp pun it’s the Heat

Tomartyr
Tomartyr
5 days ago

But how will the robot know to kill if it doesn’t have a scary name?

AlexS
AlexS
13 minutes ago

Recente drone training in Israel including Usa, UK, France, Germany, Italy.