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RAF reconstitutes 31 Squadron as new Protector unit

An artist's rendering of the Protector RG1 UAV in 31 Squadron markings. (GA-ASI via Janes/Gareth jennings)

The UK Royal Air Force (RAF) has reconstituted 31 Squadron ‘Goldstars' to operate the General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc (GA-ASI) MQ-9B Protector RG1 medium-altitude long-endurance unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV).

The former Panavia Tornado GR4 unit was stood up at RAF Waddington on 11 October, just over a week after the first of 16 Protector air vehicles was delivered to the same location and future Protector operating station on 29 September.

The Goldstars will be joined by 13 Sqn in being the Protector's two front-line units when operational flying is due to commence in 2025. Full operating capability is scheduled for 2026.

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.

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.

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