Aircrew from the UK Royal Air Force (RAF) have begun training in the US on the Protector RG Mk1 UAV, which is derived from the SkyGuardian platform developed by General Atomics Aeronautical Systems (GA-ASI).

In a 4 May announcement, the RAF stated that the course will see the first pilots, sensor operators, and mission intelligence coordinators (MIC) qualify to operate Protector, with 16 of the aircraft ordered to replace the incumbent MQ-9A Reaper platform.

Undertaken by 54 Squadron RAF at the GA-ASI Flight Test & Training Center in Grand Forks, North Dakota, students will learn to fly and operate the aircraft. The new training follows the graduation earlier this year of the first Royal Air Force Protector technicians who will maintain the aircraft and its systems.

Aircrew training, which comprises of 12 weeks of both simulation and live flying, will focus on the skills required to operate Protector and its equipment, including real-time exploitation of intelligence involving the multi-spectral targeting system and synthetic aperture radar. The MICs, who undertake a six-week course, will also learn how to operate the mission intelligence station.

The RAF’s new Protector

The aircraft has been designed to be able to fly and operate in unsegregated airspace using a detect and avoid capability, with a platform endurance of over 40 hours.

The Protector UAV is powered by a Honeywell TPE331-10 turboprop engine, achieving a maximum airspeed of 210ktas, a maximum altitude of 40,000ft, and a range of more than 6,000nmi.

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The X-band satellite communications enable automatic take-off and landing capability, which will allow the aircraft to self-deploy, avoiding the need for forward-based launch recovery equipment and personnel.

The Protector RPAS will be armed with Brimstone missiles supplied by MBDA Missile Systems and Raytheon’s Paveway IV laser-guided bombs, and is expected to enter service with the RAF by 2024.

Delivery and entry into UK service has been hit by a number of delay throughout the procurement process, as the UK’s Ministry of Defence continues to fight against financial challenges.