Technology

RAF unveils deadly new Protector drone armed with ‘game-changing technology’

RAF unveils deadly new Protector drone armed with ‘game-changing technology’

The futuristic Protector aircraft can fly for 40 hours and strike targets with precision missiles and laser-guided bombs. The Protector boasts “game changing technology” behind its Remotely Piloted Air System (RPAS) which enables taxiing, taking off and landing anywhere in the world controlled via satellite link from a remote base. Special anti-icing and lightning protection means the Protector can carry out missions in extreme conditions.

Defence analysts said the RAF pilots of the future will be able to attack targets anywhere around the world from their home base in Waddington, Lincolnshire, without having to deploy ground crews.

Current drone missions need ground control stations at the airbase they fly from and land at and have not been certified to fly in regulated airspace alongside civilian air traffic.

The first Protector flew from Yuma in Arizona to Creech Air Force Base in Nevada, from where the RAF’s 39 Squadron has been flying missions in Afghanistan and elsewhere since 2007 using Reaper drones.

RAF crew from 39 and 54 Squadrons were at the base for a first glimpse of the aircraft they will soon be operating.

Air Vice Marshal Harv Smyth, commander of the RAF’s intelligence and surveillance forces,said: “After an hour, with only two people plus a laptop, it was turned round, restarted, taxied out and took off, en route back to Yuma. Brilliant expeditionary RPAS capability.

“When we talk about next generation Air Force one of the capabilities that we’re delivering is most definitely Protector.

“This idea that we’ll have an RPAS that can operate anywhere at any time in controlled airspace alongside airliners is an absolutely game changing capability.”

Built by US company General Atomics and due to enter service in 2024, the Protector will be operated by a three-person crew featuring a pilot, a sensor operator and a mission intelligence coordinator.

The Protector will carry up to 18 Brimstone missiles, which have been used to attack moving targets such as armoured vehicles or terrorists on motorbikes, as well as Paveway IV laser-guided bombs, spread across nine weapons points on the aircraft.

The 38ft long aircraft will be certified to fly in European airspace so could feature in NATO intelligence-gathering missions in eastern Europe.

MoD chiefs have ordered 16 Protectors, with a possible further 10 to follow. They will replace the existing fleet of 10 Reaper aircraft which were bought as urgent requirements for operations in Afghanistan.

Wing Commander Colin Welsh, Officer Commanding 39 Squadron, said: “It takes everything that’s great about Reaper and adds a whole bundle of capabilities.”

The Protector programme, thought to have cost around £1 billion, is running two years behind schedule after defence officials were forced to reorganise and stretch the spending as a result of sterlings weakening against the dollar.

An RAF spokesman said: “UK RPAS aircraft are controlled by highly trained RAF pilots who adhere strictly to the same laws of armed conflict and rules of engagement as traditionally manned RAF aircraft.

“Our RPAS do not have the capability to employ weapons autonomously, our pilots always make the decision when and where to employ and release weapons.”