General Atomics has been awarded a contract by the UK Ministry of Defence (MOD) to test the Protector RG Mk1 remotely piloted aircraft system (RPAS).

Under the £100m contract, General Atomics will undertake testing and provide a report on Protector RPAS’s performance.

General Atomics developed the Protector aircraft for the UK Royal Air Force (RAF). The UK is procuring 16 of these platforms to replace the current General Atomics-built MQ-9 Reaper aircraft.

The aircraft will enter service with the RAF in 2024. It will be operated from the home base of RAF Waddington.

RAF Chief of the Air Staff Air Chief Marshal Mike Wigston said: “Through the embedding of experienced RAF operators in the programme, we are helping bring to life a world-leading capability which will provide the RAF with a remotely piloted air system that can operate worldwide in unsegregated airspace.”

The aircraft features a ‘detect and avoid’ system that allows the aircraft to operate safely in civilian airspace.

Protector will have an endurance of up to 40 hours. The RAF will use the RPAS for intelligence, surveillance, targeting and reconnaissance (ISTAR), search and rescue, and disaster response.

UK Defence Procurement Minister Anne-Marie Trevelyan said: “Our intelligence-gathering and surveillance capabilities will be critical to staying ahead of our adversaries as we enter an era dominated by grey-zone warfare.

“This contract represents a welcome step towards our world-beating Protector aircraft reaching the frontline, giving us the upper-hand against our adversaries.”

Protector will carry the Brimstone precision strike missile and Paveway IV laser-guided bombs. The aircraft has the ability to withstand adverse weather conditions.

General Atomics is expected to deliver the first aircraft to the RAF in October 2021.

Last month, the RAF’s 39 Squadron had a chance to see first-hand the capabilities of Protector, including automatic take-off and landing and taxiing capabilities.