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DSEI 2021: RAF says Waddington will be MQ-9B global training hub

13th September 2021 - 14:00 GMT | by Trevor Nash in Holsworthy


Belgian Air Component airmen discuss the Protector with a GS-ASI staff member. (Photo: Belgian MOD)

The UK is to build a Protector International Training Centre at RAF Waddington, hoping to attract operators from around the world.

The RAF announced in a recent media briefing that its Waddington base will house a new Protector International Training Centre (PITC).

RAF Waddington was selected as the home of the PITC, as part of a £94 million ($130 million) investment into infrastructure improvements to assist with accommodating Protector ahead of its entry into service in 2024.

Shephard Defence Insight notes the RAF has 16 Protector RG Mk1 Remotely Piloted Air Systems (RPAS) on order, with the General Atomics MQ-9B SkyGuardian serving as the baseline system being configured for the RAF. It includes X-band satellite communications and support for UK weapon systems, as well as onboard equipment such as an EO sensor ball and Lynx multimode radar.

The MQ-9B has generated interest from customers throughout the world. In addition to the UK, the SkyGuardian variant has been selected by the Belgian MoD as well as the Australian Defence Force under Project Air 7003.

The prototype aircraft arrived in the UK in August and has been viewed by the Belgians and Royal Netherlands Air Force among others. The aircraft is also due to take part in Exercise Joint Warrior 2021-2, where it will be operated from RAF Lossiemouth.

The prototype Protector at RAF Waddington. (Photo: Belgian MOD)

According to a UK MoD press release, ‘a key feature of the investment at RAF Waddington will be the development of a new campus which will include the Protector International Training Centre'.

The MoD added: 'Housing the Synthetic Training System for the aircraft, the centre will enable crews from the RAF and international partners to conduct a significant amount of their training in a secure environment, linking in future with the Defence Collective Training environment under the UK Gladiator programme'.

As with most military programmes, Protector had been running late and was over-budget, but these challenges have now been rectified.

Synthetic training equipment for the PITC will be provided by CAE as the training partner for General Atomics. CAE previously provided training centres for the MQ-9 in Italy and the UAE.

According to Air Chf Mshl Sir Mike Wigston, UK Chief of Air Staff, ‘30 other air forces around the world are actively considering Protector and I can see a number of those being interested in coming to the international training centre here at RAF Waddington'.

Wigston went on to highlight the benefits of the new training centre in terms of its ability to network Protector into the integrated virtual environment to be provided by Gladiator. He said the security provided by that system allows the RAF to train 'without revealing tactics and techniques to some of our adversaries'.

Initial crew training takes place at the GA ASI facility in Grand Forks, North Dakota before crews return to the UK.

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