Drone manufacturer General Atomics hosted an event in London on 24 January in order – as its press release put it – “to recognize UK companies that are contributing to operational systems such as MQ-9 Reaper and MQ-1C Gray Eagle, and the new MQ-9B SkyGuardian RPA program” (which the UK MoD is calling ‘Protector’).
As part of the day, the US company signed agreements with three major UK defence companies: Raytheon, MBDA and BAE Systems. Raytheon will supply and integrate Paveway IV bombs onto the new British drone while MBDA will integrate and supply it with the new Brimstone missile. BAE Systems, however, will play a wider role, helping to enable the new drone to be flown within the UK airspace.
Currently, large remotely controlled drones are not allowed to fly in unsegregated airspace within the UK due to safety concerns. We have previously detailed the difficulties that the MoD and General Atomics have had in convincing airspace regulators that ‘Protector’ can be flown safely in UK airspace. In July 2018, the company remotely piloted a SkyGuardian cross the Atlantic and landed it at the Fairford airbase.
Severe restrictions were put in place for the flight into UK airspace with all other aircraft directed away for the period of time the drone was in the air. The aircraft was then disassembled and put into crates for its return journey to the US. Defence News reports today that ‘Detect and Avoid’ technology (still largely unproven), may be added to Protector in an effort to persuade regulators.
General Atomics reports that BAE Systems will now collaborate with them on enabling the integration of the new military drone into UK national airspace. In a graphic shared on social media, BAE said that it will support General Atomics through its experience of testing unmanned systems and “shaping the regulatory environment through participation, dialogue and strong relationships with UK and European regulatory authorities.”
General Atomics is banking on gaining the support of UK regulators for its new large drone to fly in civil airspace as this will then likely open up the airspace of other countries – particularly in Europe – to its drones. CEO of General Atomics Linden Blue stated “Protector will be an example for other allied nations to follow” adding “thereby creating more opportunities for UK aerospace industry.” (end of excerpt)
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