The entry-into-service (EIS) date for the United Kingdom’s General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc (GA-ASI) Protector unmanned aircraft system (UAS) has been further delayed, the government disclosed on 28 March.
When the procurement of the UK-variant of GA-ASI’s Certifiable Predator B/SkyGuardian medium-altitude long-endurance (MALE) UAS was first announced in 2015 it was slated to replace the MQ-9 Reaper from 2018. However, a graphic released by the Ministry of Defence (MoD) in late 2016 then gave the Protector EIS entry date as 2021; now the government’s new National Security Capability Review (NSCR) says that this milestone will not happen until mid-2024.
News of the additional delay comes just days after the MoD announced on 13 March that a dedicated team is currently in the United States preparing for the platform’s arrival in the UK. The Protector Combined Test Team (CTT), which comprises experienced pilots, sensor operators, and engineers from the Royal Air Force (RAF), industry partners, and the US Air Force (USAF), is working through the issues related to the Protector’s compliance with national and international airspace and safety regulations.
The United Kingdom is investing in an initial 16 Protectors, but has a stated requirement for 20 such aircraft to replace the 10 Reapers that it currently fields (though a US Defense Security and Cooperation Agency notification of the proposed Protector sale put the number at 26). The Reapers were slated to be retired in the coming months to coincide with the arrival of the Protector, but it is likely that they will be extended to cover any delay and to prevent any capability gaps.
Protector is the UK’s name for the Certifiable Predator B (CPB) that is being upgraded with national-specific equipment and munitions. Equipment includes multispectral targeting systems and AN/APY-8 Lynx IIe Block 20A synthetic aperture radar and ground moving target indicators (SAR/GMTI), as well as enhanced datalinks.
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