RAF’s new uncrewed surveillance aircraft Protector begins trials

Credit: Royal Air Force (RAF)

The Royal Air Force (RAF) is set to begin testing the Protector, a new uncrewed aircraft, at RAF Waddington in Lincolnshire, the United Kingdom.  

The first-of-its-kind aircraft will undergo a wide range of tests, including takeoff and landing drills, taxi procedures, and ground testing of satellite links. It is expected to join the RAF fleet in late 2024. 

The Protector is equipped with advanced surveillance equipment, allowing it to operate at heights of up to 40,000 feet. With an endurance of more than 30 hours and a wingspan of 79 feet, it is designed for extended operations.  

Additionally, the aircraft can undertake a variety of tasks, including land and maritime surveillance, threat tracking, counter-terrorism operations, and support to UK civil authorities, such as assisting in search and rescue missions. 

“With the first aircraft at RAF Waddington ready to begin trials, we will once again demonstrate how we are spearheading military defense technology,” Defense Procurement Minister, James Cartlidge, said in a statement on October 23, 2023. 

The Protector is assembled by the 31 Squadron, dating back to 1915 and has operated various aircraft types, including the Tornado GR4. The squadron will exclusively operate and maintain the Protector as it transitions into service. 

While the first Protector is undergoing testing at RAF Waddington, there are plans to introduce 15 more aircraft into the fleet. Sourced from the United States-based defense company General Atomics, the entire fleet is expected to be operational by the end of 2025. 

As each aircraft is integrated, the RAF’s capacity for global surveillance and strike operations will be significantly enhanced. 

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