The much-discussed SkyGuardian drone, which will be operated from RAF Waddington in Lincolnshire, has been unveiled at the airbase as part of a £94 million investment in infrastructure and defence.
A pre-production example of the new Protector drones arrived at RAF Waddington, the base of its operations, in anticipation of the arrival of the full Protector aircrafts in 2024.
The UK has ordered 16 of the Protector RG MK1 drones from General Atomics, all of which will be based at RAF Waddington, which will get a £94 million investment as part of the programme.
The investment will help house the aircraft and improve infrastructure at RAF Waddington in preparation of the Protector going into service in the next few years.
It will also see the development of a new campus that will include the Protector International Training Centre, which will enable crews from the RAF to conduct training in a secure environment, as well as creating many jobs for the local economy.
The SkyGuardian prototype drone arrived in Lincolnshire at the end of August, and will be part of trials for a remotely piloted aircraft system that is similar to the equipment used for the Protectors.
The SkyGuardian will only fly in approved areas, and will operate within CAA regulations, much like any other aircraft in the UK airspace.
The arrival of the drones has been a topic of debate in Lincolnshire, with campaigners opposing the plans and some staging a protest outside the airbase in August, calling for a halt to US drone testing.
Speaking at RAF Waddington, Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said: “Today marks a huge milestone in the Protector programme, bringing us one step closer to delivering this world-leading capability to the RAF.
“This £94 million investment cements RAF Waddington’s place as the UK’s ISTAR hub, ensuring our Protector fleet can operate safely and effectively for many years to come.”
Chief of the Air Staff, Air Chief Marshal Sir Mike Wigston said: “The Protector aircraft is a huge leap forward in performance and autonomous technology. It can fly for 40 hours anywhere in the world, providing critical surveillance and precision strike to protect the UK and our allies.
“As the lead customer for this aircraft, I am delighted the Royal Air Force is once again at the cutting edge of air power innovation.”