A sovereign upgrade capability for the Royal Air Force's (RAF's) new Protector unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) is a vital part of the project to renew the service's fleet of unmanned systems.
Speaking exclusively to Jane’s , Dave Alexander, president of General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc's (GA-ASI's) Aircraft Systems Group, said the provision of a design authority capability would mean the RAF has greater autonomy to modify the Protector, as is the case with its existing General Atomics MQ-9 Reapers.
“With minor exceptions, after full certification the UK will have design authority for its Protectors,” he said.
Alexander revealed that the United Kingdom’s Protectors will be the first operational UAVs to be fitted with a satellite communications (SATCOM)-linked automatic take-off and landing system that will transform the operational flexibility of the United Kingdom’s UAV fleet. The technology will be tested early next year after YBC02, the second prototype SkyGuardian air vehicle, makes its maiden flight. SkyGuardian is the product’s branding in non-UK markets. It is also known as the Certifiable Predator B.
“YBC02 will be a huge sea change”, said Alexander. “You can pre-flight with a tablet [computer] and then hand off to a ground control station [(GCS) located elsewhere] over SATCOM – it is a huge game changer. You no longer need a pilot in the GCS [by the runway]. This reduces the forward deployed portion. You can taxi through SATCOM, hit the button and it will take off automatically. All of it is done through SATCOM, anywhere in the world. I can’t stress how forward leaning the UK is in this area.”
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