UK To Buy “Certifiable Predator B” Protector
The UK MOD has announced in a low key contracts notice that they intend to meet the PROTECTOR Unmanned Aerial System requirement to replace the RAF Reaper MQ-9A fleet, through a £415 million Government-Government Foreign Military Sales (FMS) contract with the US Department of Defence (US DoD). UPDATE 27 April 2016: This specific contract, that runs to 31 Oct 2023, appears to be £332 million.
The contract announcement states the MOD has conducted a “thorough Assessment Phase (AP) which has concluded that the Certifiable Predator B (CPB) (also known as Guardian Eagle) is the only system capable of achieving UK [MAA] Military Type Certification (MTC) and delivering the PROTECTOR requirement within the required timescales”. This suggests, as expected, that that integration in non-segregated civil airspace is a key factor (the earlier Reapers are limited to ‘in theatre’ operations). Certification challenges saw the German cancellation of the RQ-4 Global Hawk based Euro Hawk in 2013 (including also lightning protection and icing capability).
General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc (GA-ASI) says it is developing the CPB variant of the Predator B Remotely Piloted Aircraft (RPA) which will first “meet European airworthiness initial certification standards in 2017, and in cooperation with the FAA will subsequently meet domestic airworthiness certification standards”. In June 2015 GA-ASI said Certifiable Predator B:
…has completed a successful internal Phase 1 Critical Design Review (CDR), along with reviews by two prospective European customers. Development of the system follows international airworthiness standards that include STANAG 4671, UK DEFSTAN 00-970, SAE ARP4754A, MIL HDBK-516C, DO-178, and DO-254, as well as others.
GA-ASI is focused on the development and testing of Detect and Avoid (DAA) capabilities for RPA, combining Traffic and Collision Avoidance System (TCAS) II with the company’s Due Regard Radar (DRR) to enable both automatic collision avoidance and the ability to remain well clear of other airspace users.
The integrated DAA system will continue to fly aboard NASA‘s Ikhana (Predator B) in 2015 in support of a series of NASA flight tests. These tests will measure the performance of the entire system in a variety of situations to support the ongoing standards development within the RTCA Special Committee 228.
The CPB has a 79 foot wingspan, 13 feet greater than Reaper, which gives a greater internal fuel capacity, increasing its endurance from 27 to more than 40 hours. The first flight of a test vehicle with the longer span wing occurred on 18 February 2016 at GA-ASI’s Grey Butte Flight Test Facility in Palmdale, CA. The Predator family has now achieved over 3.8 million flying hours.
Protector followed on from the earlier MOD Scavenger programme.
The Reaper has been operated by the RAF since 2007. The RAF are the only export operator of the type that carry weapons. Its first armed Reaper sortie was in Afghanistan in May 2008. Reaper is currently being employed as part of the UK contribution to activities against Islamic State / Daesh militants in Iraq and Syria.
UPDATE 6 May 2016: Chris Pocock of AINonline suggestes that the other European customer is the Netherlands. He notes that France, Germany and Italy are teamed on the rival Euro-MALE UAS project.
UPDATE 30 May 2016: At the Berlin Airshow GA-ASI and local subsidiary Spezialtechnik Dresden (STD) are positioning to offer CPB / Guardian Eagle to the German government.
UPDATE 12 September 2016: Aircraft integration has been completed at the GA-ASI Poway, CA production facility and the prototype has been shipped to its Gray Butte Flight Operations facility near Palmdale, CA.
“The completion of aircraft integration for the CPB aircraft is an important step in our progression toward building a certifiable system,” said David R. Alexander, president, Aircraft Systems, GA-ASI. “CPB is a key product in our effort to introduce RPA into non-segregated civilian airspace and will be the baseline configuration for the UK Protector Program.”
Upon successful completion of ground and taxi tests, initial flight testing will commence at Gray Butte in November under an Experimental Certification from the FAA, after which the aircraft will be shipped to the U.S. Army’s Yuma Proving Grounds (YPG) facility, Ariz., for continued flight testing. Subsequent events will include sensor payload testing and endurance flights.
UPDATE 3 OCTOBER 2016: It was revealed at RAeS conference that RAF eyes British weapons for Protector fleet:
It plans to integrate the Raytheon Paveway IV laser-guided bomb and MBDA Brimstone air-to-surface missile on its future fleet of General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Certifiable Predator B (CPB) – two weapons that it has failed to introduce onto the current MQ-9 Reaper.
The RAF is also considering using the CPB in a maritime patrol role to complement its ordered fleet of manned Boeing P-8 Poseidons.
UPDATE 17 November 2016: The US State Department has made a determination approving the proposed Foreign Military Sale, including support, worth an estimated $1.0 billion if the proposed options are taken up. The Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA) delivered the notification to Congress on 16 November 2016.
The United Kingdom (UK) requested a possible sale of up to twenty-six (26) Certifiable Predator B Remotely Piloted Aircraft (16 with option for additional 10);twelve (12) Advanced Ground Control Stations (GCSs) (8 with option for additional 4); four (4) New Launch and Recovery Element GCSs; four (4) Upgrades to existing Blk 15 Launch and Recovery Element GCSs (2 with option for additional 2); twenty-five (25) Multi-spectral Targeting Systems (12 + 2 spares, with option for additional 10 + 1 spare); twenty-five (25) AN/APY-8 Lynx IIe Block 20A Synthetic Aperture Radar and Ground Moving Target Indicators (SAR/GMTI) (12+ 2 spares, with option for additional 10 + 1 spare); Eighty-six (86) Embedded Global Positioning System/Inertial Guidance Units (EGIs) (3 per aircraft) (48 + 5 spares, with option for additional 30 + 3 spares).
This sale also includes communications equipment, Identification Friend or Foe (IFF) equipment; weapons installation kits; TPE331-10YGD engines; unique and common spares package; support equipment; U.S. Air Force technical orders; country specific technical orders; Contractor Logistics Support for two (optional three) years; contractor provided aircraft components, spares, and accessories; personnel training; and other related elements of logistical and program support. The total estimated program cost is $1.0 billion.
There are no known offset agreements proposed in connection with this potential sale.
UPDATE 28 November 2016: General Atomics announces that “Type-Certifiable Predator® B” completed its first flight at the Gray Butte Flight Operations Facility on 17th November 2016.
UPDATE 4 October 2016: The Defence Secretary Rt Hon Sir Michael Fallon MP announces a “£100m contract” with General Atomics “to develop technology” for the Protector RPAS, saying:
Britain faces ever-evolving threats and we must look at innovative solutions to stay ahead of our enemies. Doubling investment in our unmanned air fleet will substantially enhance both the intelligence gathering and firepower of the RAF.
The UK’s security partnership with the US is the deepest and most advanced of any two nations on earth; this programme is part of a further strengthening which will help keep Britain safe and secure.
The Sunday Telegraph reports that the deal will “bring the UK a decisive advantage on the battlefield” while the Observer describes the deal as “a major addition in terms of firepower, imaging and intelligence gathering”’.
UPDATE 27 January 2017: It is reported that GA-ASI are to adopt their own fluffy (and more civil use compatible) name for CPB: SkyGuardian.
UPDATE 29 March 2017: In October 2016 the MOD gave the Protector EIS entry date as 2021; now the government’s new National Security Capability Review (NSCR) says that this milestone will not happen until mid-2024. UK’s Protector UAS faces further delay
UPDATE 25 January 2019: UK suppliers announced.
UPDATE 1 April 2020: The first production representative air vehicle has flown.