The UK government has committed GBP100 million (USD128 million) to the further development of the General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc (GA-ASI) Protector unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV).
The funding, which was announced on 4 December by the Secretary of State for Defence Michael Fallon, is for the development of technology including advanced imaging payloads and enhanced datalinks, as well as for the integration of MBDA Brimstone 2 missiles and Raytheon Paveway IV laser-guided bombs aboard the Protector. The Protector is the UK's name for the Certifiable Predator B (CPB).
Fallon's announcement at the annual Reagan National Defence Forum in California came days after the US State Department approved the sale of 16 medium-altitude long-endurance (MALE) Protector vehicles, with options for a further 10. Along with equipment, training, and support, the total sale is valued at USD1 billion. The proposed sale must now be approved by the US Congress ahead of a contract signature.
The United Kingdom announced its intention to replace its current 10 GA-ASI Reaper UAVs with 20 new Protector platforms in the Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR) in 2015. It emerged in April of this year that the Protector is the CPB.
Company literature gives the CPB a maximum operating altitude of 45,000 ft (compared with 50,000 ft for the Reaper), a maximum endurance of more than 40 hours (compared with 27 hours for the Reaper), and a maximum air speed of 200 kt (compared with 240 kt for the Reaper). The CPB also has nine external stories stations, compared with five for the Reaper.
The UK Ministry of Defence (MoD) has previously told IHS Jane's that the 20 Protector UAVs are expected to begin entering service in 2018-19 to coincide with the retirement of the Royal Air Force's 10 Reapers. However, a graphic released by the MoD to coincide with Fallon's announcement now gives the Protector in-service date as 2021.
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