The UK’s new armed drones – known as ‘SkyGuardian’ internationally, but renamed ‘Protector’ by the UK – will begin test flights in the UK next month after the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) agreed to new airspace rules around RAF Waddington. The MoD will undertake “a small number of time-critical proving flights” of the new drone ahead of a longer test and training programme due to begin in late 2023/early 2024.
The first of an initial batch of sixteen MQ-9B SkyGuardian was flown into RAF Waddington on-board a transport aircraft on 30 September.
According to Jane’s:
“While the Protector fleet will be based at and operated from RAF Waddington, it will spend most of its time overseas in the same manner as the Reaper fleet. A future operational scenario could see the Protector ferry itself from RAF Waddington to a location in the Middle East or Sub-Saharan Africa, arriving in theatre to be met by a team that would arm and prep it for its mission.”
The UK is replacing its fleet of ten Reaper drones with up to 26 of the new ‘Protector’ drones. The newer drone has further range and longer endurance, as well as being capable of carrying more weapons. It is also capable of autonomous take-off and landing.
Why we continue to challenge the use of armed drones
As we have argued over the past decade, while remote-controlled drones are presented as enabling ‘pinpoint’ accurate air strikes which enable us to ‘take out’ bad guys without risk to our own forces, the reality is somewhat different. While the UK continues to claim that only one civilian was killed in the thousands of British air and drone strikes in Iraq and Syria, journalists and casualty recording organisations have reported large numbers of civilian casualties from US and UK air strikes. In addition, as they can be deployed with no or few boots on the ground, making it much easier for political leaders to choose to use armed force.
Armed drones have also enabled a huge increase in so-called ‘targeted killing’ including killing of individuals far from battle zone. While some argue that it the policy of targeted killing that is problematic, it is hard to deny that the practice has hugely increased with the advent of armed drones. While the US is at the forefront of such operations, the UK too has used its drones to carry out a number of such killings including the killing of a suspected ISIS leader in Syria in December 2022.
Drones are also ushering in what amounts to a state of permanent war. With no or few troops deployed, the public pressure to bring military deployments to an end is negligible. While both the Iraqi and Syrian governments, for example, have long declared the military defeat of ISIS (March 2019), UK and US drones and other aircraft continue to undertake air operations and air strikes in Iraq and Syria which is deeply resented by their citizens.
Drone use is also increasingly secretive. Since the beginning of 2023, the MoD has refused to release details of the use of its armed drones both for operations in Iraq and Syria (Operations Shader) and beyond. While we are challenging this through the Information Commissioner’s Office, the MoD is arguing that it needs ‘ambiguity’ in regard to its drones operations.
Join us to protest the arrival of new armed drones
Monday 13 November, Noon – 1.30pm, Main Gate, RAF Waddington
More details: firstname.lastname@example.org
RAF Waddington is in the village of Waddington, on the A607. The main entrance is at the end of
Mere Road, Waddington, Lincoln, LN5 9NX.