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 latest milestone in the UK Protector programme follows the announcement in July that the first three aircraft were being manufactured following the award by the Ministry of Defence (MOD) of a £65 million contract to General Atomics – Aeronautical Systems Inc (GA-ASI).

“The aircraft took to the skies in the US on Friday, September 25, under the watchful eye of GA-ASI staff. Protector RG Mk1, which will replace the current Reaper Force when it is introduced to the front-line, is considered a step change in capability for the RAF. The cutting-edge platform will be capable of being flown anywhere in the world while being operated by personnel located at their home base at RAF Waddington, Lincolnshire where it will enter service by mid-2024.”

Defence Minister Jeremy Quin, was quoted as saying:

“The inaugural flight of the UK’s first Protector is an exciting and welcome step in the development of our ground-breaking fleet. With increased range and endurance, greater ISR and weapons capacity and improved weather resilience, Protector will play a vital intelligence and deterrent role in countering future threats.”

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

This first Protector aircraft will remain in the US to support system testing as part of a combined UK MoD, US Air Force and GA-ASI test team. Upon completion of this initial testing, it will be delivered to the MOD in the summer of 2021 but will remain in the USA to complete the RAF’s test and evaluation programme.

This is the first of the three Protector aircraft currently on order, although the contract includes an option for the remaining 13 aircraft to complete the currently planned fleet of 16 aircraft that will “more than double” the capability currently provided by Reaper.

You can read more about this here.

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Well one bit of good news , but will we see the order of an additional 13 craft go ahead?


I really don’t get the small multi-part buy rate. It can only be there to allow for cancellations, which must up the unit price. In this case we are buying an already designed platform, and so mid order changes to the contract/spec are unlikely

Even with the UK built stuff, like the frigates, why not order all 8 and then have proper clauses in the contract to allow for termination if SLA are not achieved, and adjustments where enhancements are required.


You make a valid point, Belgium has signed up to buy 4 Sky Guardians last year, the other month the RAF and Brussels signed up to a collaboration deal regards the UAV. A bulk order at the same time would surely have afforded a better deal and the name of the game is saving money.


Maybe it’s so we don’t have to pay for upgrades?


we keep being told that drones are the future…force multiplier….reduce human interaction. Can we afford NOT to order them…its such a small number anyway


That is the official line, but i am not sure that this is really true in practice. Protector, and the like, would be made light work of, if they were used against a country that had any form of reasonable air defense. Realistically they are just good at dropping bombs on insurgents, at a reduced cost to conventional aircraft. I am all for cutting costs when it comes to tackling guys in pickup trucks, but the official story makes it sound like they are a direct replacement for conventional options which is used as a smoke cloud to cover cuts… Read more »


Can a Zephyr not be made available to a carrier group to provide its eyes in the skies? I think this must be better than a relatively slow helicopter surely? I think Unmanned assets are the way to go, but they need to be cheaper to buy and operate as ultimately they are dispensable and you are right, will be made light work of. A couple of areas I do think they make sense Sea Domain mine countermeasures ASW Swarm attack certain types of submarine. Air Domain Maritime surveillance refuelling Cargo Carrier Group situational awareness and early warning (due to… Read more »


I suspect its a weight issue, radars are pretty heavy and a lot heavier than just an optical camera that it currently is designed for. Zephyr can only hold 58kg according to wikipedia.

Additionally there is the question of speed, anything operating with the carrier needs to be able to keep up with it. From what i have read Zephyr is designed for stationary operation rather than pace.


Drones seem to be causing havoc in the Middle East, including the complete dominance over Russian Panstir system.

Turkey could have annihilated every piece of armor in the Syrian inventory, but they seemed satisfied with only destroying about half of it in 24 hours.

Drones time has come, it’s probably the reason the wedgetail order was cut.


Why are Turkeys drones so successful it’s like they can’t see them are they flying very high it’s the same again against Armenia ,,Armenia have good air defences Russian air defences but they seem to not be able to see them what’s going on?

A. Smith

This is welcome news in terms of increasing our capabilities however the Government now needs to announce and commit to an indigenous drone programme where all future drones are designed and made in the UK.


It’s the only logical choice, and I expect UCAV’s to come as part of Tempest.

A. Smith

We need a low, medium & high mix family of UK designed and built drones to replace the Watchkeepers and Reapers and meet future needs of all the armed forces.

Regarding Tempest, it doesn’t fill me with confidence when the companies in the running for the Lanca project are rumoured to be Boeing, Bombardier and Northrop Grumman.

Mark F

As I said in an earlier post about protector, the initial planned buy was for 20 and that was quickly dropped to 16. We will see how this all pans out in the next review. When that is done the government must be held to account on commitment to buy what ever equipment HM forces need and not mess with the procurement process on numbers and delays.
We face threats on all fronts conventional, asymmetric,cyber and space that is a fact.


What happens to the Reapers, are they used along side the Protectors or stored for future operations or sold to other countries


I understand that the sale of the Reapers include a return to the US at the end of their life.


It’s a nice step, but I can partly understand the stepped buy rate. Yes, Turkey’s Bayraktar drones have been effective in Syria and Libya, but they have also been shot down in relatively high numbers. According to drone wars, 23 have been shot down over Syria and Libya in 2020 alone, along with another 8 Chinese Wing Loon which are also non-stealthy MALE drones. We’d have run through our entire theoretical future fleet of Protectors and have started dusting off the old Reapers by now if we were involved. What I’d like to see is the navigation/avionics/comms systems that have… Read more »


What happened to Taranis? Huge publicity, then silence. Presumably its all feeding into the Tempest project?


It was a technology demonstrator, nothing more. I presume the relevant data has been collected and will translate into the loyal wingman/Tempest projects accordingly.


Yes drones are the future!
Turkey demonstrated the world first drone formation attack on another state as confirmed by Wallace in the Syria attack The Turks came out of nowhere and now are moving to next model the Akinci which has 600km range and can carry 300km range cruise missiles and with 300km air to air missiles too making them out of reach of most air defense systems.