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RAF names 13 Sqn as second Protector unit

An artist's impression of the Protector RG1 in UK service. The type will be flown by 31 and 13 squadrons. (GA-ASI via Janes/Gareth Jennings)

The UK Royal Air Force (RAF) has named 13 Squadron as its second unit to operate the General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc (GA-ASI) MQ-9B Protector RG1 medium-altitude long-endurance unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV).

The Chief of the Air Staff, Air Chief Marshal Sir Mike Wigston, made the announcement on 15 September, noting that 13 Squadron will join 31 Squadron (both former Panavia Tornado GR4 units) in fielding the certified UAV from the type's main operating base at RAF Waddington.

“I am delighted to announce that the second squadron to operate this new aircraft will be XIII [13] Squadron. Equipped with Protector, squadron personnel will be capable of operating anywhere in the world providing the United Kingdom with an operational advantage by delivering intelligence, surveillance, target acquisition, and reconnaissance effect at range and speed,” ACM Wigston was quoted as saying.

The RAF is set to receive 16 Protectors, with deliveries set to commence in 2023–24. Full operating capability is scheduled for 2026, once the RAF is able to conduct UK-based training and fulfil three separate operational tasking lines on a ‘24/7' basis.

ACM Wigston recently said that the Protector will 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 Reaper was an urgent operational requirement for Afghanistan that was largely controlled by the United States.

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