LONDON --- The UK is planning to achieve a seamless transition in its delivery of unmanned surveillance services from the General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Predator to the company's more capable Protector RG1 by 2024, with flight testing of the new model now gathering pace.
General Atomics says a first delivery from a 16-aircraft order of Protectors for the UK Royal Air Force (RAF) will be made "in the early 2020s". Wing Commander Judith Graham, the service's programme manager for the Reaper and Protector, says its current assets are scheduled to leave operational use around 2024.
"Reaper is an extraordinarily valuable capability for the UK government – we don't want a capability gap," she notes.
A phased drawdown of the Reaper force will be managed as the replacement system comes online, with this process to include ending the UK's long-term use of ground-control station (GCS) infrastructure for the current type at the US Air Force's Creech AFB in Nevada. The UK has ordered seven GCS to support operations with the Protector fleet from RAF Waddington in Lincolnshire.
Graham says the new model will provide a "step-change in capability", most notably resulting from the RAF's "ability to certify it for use in UK airspace". The service expects to secure approval from the UK Civil Aviation Authority to perform training flights from Waddington in the first half of 2024. (end of excerpt)
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