A new unmanned aircraft for the RAF has taken to the skies in the UK as it prepares for entry into service in 2024.
The remotely-piloted aircraft is called SkyGuardian, manufactured by General Atomics-Aeronautical Systems Inc (GA-ASI).
The UK has ordered 16 of the aircraft, referred to as Protector by the UK acquisition programme, all of which will be based at RAF Waddington.
Operating this summer from the Lincolnshire station, the SkyGuardian aircraft has undertaken a number of sorties showcasing its capabilities while also providing vital information for personnel at RAF Waddington preparing for the aircraft’s permanent arrival in 2024.
Protector will significantly boost the RAF’s armed Intelligence, Surveillance, Target Acquisition, and Reconnaissance (ISTAR) capability.
The programme and 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 enhanced by the £24 billion increase in defence spending over the next four years announced by the prime minister Boris Johnson last November.
The UK Protector programme involves 12 UK industry partners and brings together leading technology and service providers to work with GA-ASI, with £400 million being reinvested into UK industry supporting over 200 UK jobs.
Protector will have to meet stringent NATO and UK safety certification standards, meaning it could operate in civilian airspace. It therefore will also be available, if requested, to support civilian agencies in the UK, for example in search and rescue and disaster response missions.
The fleet will also have advanced anti-icing and lightning protection, providing the RAF with unprecedented flexibility to operate in adverse weather conditions.
The aircraft will use enhanced data links and carry next-generation, low collateral, precision strike weapons: the UK-made Brimstone missile and Paveway IV Laser Guided Bombs.