The U.K. Ministry of Defense on Wednesday announced a £65 million contract to build the country’s first three Protector Remotely Piloted Air System (RPAS).
The aircraft will be the first U.K. operated system capable of strike missions anywhere in the world. The contract was announced by Defense Secretary Ben Wallace at the virtual 2020 Air and Space Power Conference, the MoD said in a release.
After a successful development phase Protector is set to enter service by mid-2024. Protector is the world’s first certified RPAS, enabling it to fly in busy, unsegregated airspace, including civilian airspace, thanks to its ground-breaking ‘detect and avoid’ technology.
The Protector will replace the current Reaper RPAS force. It will be deployed in wide-ranging Intelligence, Surveillance, Targeting and Reconnaissance (ISTAR) operations from its base at RAF Waddington, Lincolnshire.
The aircraft has the ability to fly consistently for up to 40 hours, and will have advanced anti-icing and lightning protection. Protector also comes with enhanced data links and will carry next-generation, low collateral, precision strike weapons – the UK-made Brimstone missile (MBDA) and Paveway IV Laser Guided Bomb (Raytheon UK).
The contract follows a successful development phase by manufacturers General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc. which will build the first three Protector aircraft, plus three ground control stations and other associated support equipment.
It also includes an option to build 13 more aircraft and four ground control stations, which will complete the current planned fleet of 16 aircraft, more than doubling the capability currently provided by Reaper.