The UK is committed to acquiring 16 Protector RG Mk1 aircraft to replace the existing Reaper fleet. Two squadrons currently operate Reaper, XIII Squadron based at RAF Waddington and 39 Squadron at Creech AFB.
Air Vice Marshal Harv Smyth, Air Officer Commanding No.1 Group said: “When we talk about ‘next generation Air Force’ one of the capabilities that we’re delivering is most definitely Protector. This idea that we’ll have an RPAS that can operate anywhere at any time in controlled airspace alongside airliners is an absolutely game changing capability.”
He added: “The fact that we can do it with a platform that’s got 40 plus hours of endurance and a capability to deliver everything from very precise kinetic effect right through to varying payloads of intelligence gathering, taking that intelligence and then adding it into the decision making space, we then absolutely get to a point where we’re gaining what we’re now calling information advantage, an ability to stay ahead of whatever we need to stay ahead of.”
An outstanding day at Creech AFB where @GenAtomics_ASI landed a prototype of our future Protector UAV. It took off from Yuma, flew north to Creech, performed a flypast, landed perfectly on target on time, and (as a first) taxied to park via satellite link. 1/2 pic.twitter.com/ucNjSGJmZU— Air Vice-Marshal Harv Smyth (@AOC_1_Group) August 17, 2019
Looking ahead to the arrival of Protector RG Mk.1 into service, Wing Commander Colin Welsh, Officer Commanding 39 Squadron said: “Protector for most of the team here is something which exists on paper and in pictures. So by allowing individuals to see the aircraft, to see the advanced Ground Control System and how the Mission Intelligence Coordinator and the crew will interact through a new system will be a fantastic motivator for the team to have a first-hand look at the next generation of this capability.”
Asked for his thoughts on Protector Wg Cdr Welsh said: “It takes everything that’s great about Reaper and adds a whole bundle of capabilities including the ability to sense and avoid, to be certifiable in order to fly in open airspace and a sovereign weapons payload aboard the aircraft. The ability to take the similarities it has with Reaper and apply them to the next generation of capability and sensors is something everyone is excited about here.”
Among the personnel looking forward to seeing Protector was Flight Sergeant ‘M’ who said: “I’ve heard a lot about Protector so am now really looking forward to seeing it for myself to make my own judgment in terms of what I’ll be operating in future. A wide cross-section of the squadron will also see it for themselves. We’re absolutely focussed on Ops and so don’t have much time to think about the future.”
"Protector will bring a new dimension"
His views were echoed by Flight Lieutenant 'C' who will be one of the first to transition from Reaper to Protector: “It looks good, an interesting aircraft in what it can do, what it’s planned to do. Reaper has been so successful on operations but Protector will bring a new dimension with how it can operate in civil airspace.”
Protector will in due course be operated by 31 Squadron at RAF Waddington.