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).”
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.
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.