A pre-production example of the UK’s new Protector aircraft has taken to the UK skies as part of preparations for the arrival of Protector to RAF Waddington.
The air station has been selected as the home of the Protector International Training Centre, as part of a £94 million investment into infrastructure improvements to assist with housing the aircraft ahead of its entry into service in 2024.
The UK has ordered 16 Protector aircraft from General Atomics-Aeronautical Systems Inc (GA-ASI), all of which will be based at RAF Waddington, the RAF’s ISTAR hub.
Speaking at RAF Waddington, Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said:
Today marks a huge milestone in the Protector programme, bringing us one step closer to delivering this world-leading capability to the RAF.
This £94 million investment cements RAF Waddington’s place as the UK’s ISTAR hub, ensuring our Protector fleet can operate safely and effectively for many years to come.
A key feature of the investment at RAF Waddington will be the development of a new campus which will include the Protector International Training Centre.Housing the Synthetic Training System for the aircraft, the Centre will enable crews from the RAF and international partners to conduct a significant amount of their training in a secure environment, linking in future with the Defence Collective Training environment under the UK Gladiator programme.
The new campus will support many jobs in the local area, with contracts awarded in the coming months for infrastructure improvements at the base. The campus will feature new Single Living Accommodation for Protector ground crews, a hangar, office facilities, a new road to the Protector area of RAF Waddington and a new taxiway. Operating this summer from the Lincolnshire station, the SkyGuardian aircraft has undertaken a number of sorties showcasing its impressive capabilities while also providing vital information for personnel at RAF Waddington preparing for the aircraft’s permanent arrival in 2024. SkyGuardian will be known as Protector when it enters RAF service.
Today’s investment marks an important step in the development of the revolutionary Detect and Avoid technology, permitting Protector to fly in unsegregated airspace safely – as the world’s first Medium Altitude Long Endurance (MALE) Remotely Piloted Aircraft System, Protector will significantly boost the RAF’s armed Intelligence, Surveillance, Target Acquisition, and Reconnaissance (ISTAR) capability.
The UK’s Protector programme and the investment at RAF Waddington form part of commitments outlined in the Defence Command Paper to ensure the RAF are equipped to face future threats. This is further enhanced by the £24 billion increase in defence spending over the next four years announced by the Prime Minister last November.
Chief of the Air Staff, Air Chief Marshal Sir Mike Wigston said:
The Protector aircraft is a huge leap forward in performance and autonomous technology. It can fly for 40 hours anywhere in the world, providing critical surveillance and precision strike to protect the UK and our allies.
As the lead customer for this aircraft, I am delighted the Royal Air Force is once again at the cutting edge of air power innovation.
SkyGuardian’s visit to the UK has also enabled refinement of the requirements needed to fully integrate Protector operations into Waddington, where personnel will be able to deploy the aircraft across the globe whenever and wherever needed.
Protector will be able to conduct missions of up to 40 hours and fly in non-segregated civil airspace allowing it to respond rapidly and offer flexibility to deliver an array of military missions and support to civil authorities, including search and rescue.
While in the UK, pilots from GA-ASI have been operating the aircraft. Later this month they will participate in Joint Warrior, a multi-national large-scale military exercise.
The UK Protector programme involves 12 UK industry partners and brings together world-leading technology and service providers to work with GA-ASI, with £400 million being reinvested into UK industry supporting over 200 UK jobs.