RAF accepts first MQ-9B Protector from GA-ASI
Acceptance Test Procedures (ATP) for the first RAF MQ-9B SkyGuardian (Protector in UK service) have been completed by General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc. (GA-ASI).
The manufacturer announced the development on 6 October and confirmed an official handover of the aircraft to the RAF had also taken place.
The MALE UAV was accepted by Simon Ellard, director of combat air at Defence Equipment and Support (DE&S).
Ellard said the RAF looks forward to a first Protector delivery to RAF Waddington in 2023.
‘ATP was performed jointly by the UK Ministry of Defence and GA-ASI following the completion of the aircraft production and acceptance procedures,’ said GA-ASI. ‘ATP includes all inspections and tests performed on the hardware in operation for the aircraft and in conformance with the functional specification and technical requirements.’
Over the last two months, ATP was carried out at the manufacturer’s Desert Horizon flight operations facility at El Mirage, California with the aircraft due to stay in the US for maintenance and pilot training.
‘ATP was also completed on the first two sets of Portable Pre-flight and Post-flight Equipment (P3Es),’ added GA-ASI. ‘P3E is laptop size ground support equipment that enables SATCOM Automatic Taxi, Takeoff and Landing Capability from anywhere in the world greatly reducing the personnel and equipment fielding footprint.’
Using such equipment removes the need for forward-based launch and recovery crews and maintainers, noted the manufacturer. P3E can also double as ground support equipment when directly connected to Protector.
The UK has ordered 16 of the aircraft for ISTAR missions, in line with a full acquisition that includes seven ground control stations and five synthetic training systems.
The new UAVs are set to replace MQ-9A Reapers, with IOC expected in 2024.
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