The first of 16 Protector air vehicles was loaded onto an An-124 transport aircraft for delivery to the UK on 29 September. (GA-ASI)
General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc (GA-ASI) has delivered the first MQ-9B Protector RG1 medium-altitude long-endurance unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) to the United Kingdom.
The first of a planned 16 Protector RG1 air vehicles was loaded onto an Antonov An-124 airlifter at the company's Poway production facility in southern California on 29 September, ahead of its transatlantic crossing to Royal Air Force (RAF) Waddington in England.
The Protector is the UK-specific variant of the MQ-9B SkyGuardian, which is also known as the SeaGuardian in its dedicated maritime fit. It is designed to provide a step change in unmanned operations for the RAF, given that it will be a sovereign capability that the UK fully owns, whereas the previous MQ-9A Reaper was an urgent operational requirement for Afghanistan that was largely controlled by the United States.
While the Protector fleet will be based at and operated from RAF Waddington, it will spend most of its time overseas in the same manner as the Reaper fleet. A future operational scenario could see the Protector ferry itself from RAF Waddington to a location in the Middle East or Sub-Saharan Africa, arriving in theatre to be met by a team that would arm and prep it for its mission.
Besides intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) and strike, the RAF envisions a range of roles for the Protector that would include civil support in the UK and maritime awareness at home and abroad.
Operational flying by 13 and 31 squadrons (sqns) is scheduled to commence in 2025, with full operating capability scheduled for 2026.