Basis of new British “Protector” drone test flown in California

 Predator B Long Wing variant - test flown on 18 February 2016 - Photo: General Atomics
Predator B Long Wing variant – test flown on 18 February 2016 – Photo: General Atomics

General Atomic has test flown a new version of its Predator B (Reaper) unmanned aircraft that is the basis for David Cameron’s so-called “Protector” drone.

New 79-foot wings – 13 feet longer than previous – have been added to the Extended Range version of the infamous Predator drone.  40 of the Extended Range (with increased fuel-capacity) have been delivered to the USAF recently for “field testing”. The new design with increased wing lengths will increase flight times of the drone from 27 hours to 40 hours say the company. Read more

Cameron further commits the UK to drone wars

David Cameron visits RAF Waddington and Coningsby - Credit BBC Radio Lincolnshire
David Cameron visits RAF Waddington and Coningsby – Credit BBC Radio Lincolnshire

A year after the UK doubled its drone fleet David Cameron visited RAF Waddington today to signal further commitment to – and spending on – drones and special forces.  The Prime Minster told the media that he had asked Defence Chiefs to look at how to do more to counter the threat posed by ISIS including spending more on “spy planes, drones and Special Forces.”  Cameron insisted that “in the last 5 years, I have seen just how vital these assets are in keeping us safe.”   He also, according to reports, suggested that the new Aircraft Carrier, Queen Elizabeth could be used to deploy drones in the future. Read more

SDSR, Drones and Autonomy

“There is extra money for unmanned aerial vehicles, and I think that anyone who has been to Afghanistan and seen the incredible work that is being done there knows that is a capability in which we should be investing” 

David Cameron’s statement on the Strategic Defence Review, 19th October 2010  (Hansard Column 817)


Prime Minister David Cameron’s vision of a “growing fleet” of drones, together with a commitment to extra money for drones in his statement on the Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR) this week will have delighted the drone industry.  While there is little detail at this stage, the financial commitment together with recent noises about greater cooperation on military projects with France will have boosted the idea of a new joint Anglo-French drone.  

As we reported in June, the MoD has confirmed that a study into the possibility of a joint French-Anglo drone was underway (MoD confirms joint UK/France study into future drone). This week French executives met with General Atomics after French Defence Minister Hervé Morin, told a government committee that his favoured way forward was to purchase Reaper drones in the short-term and to “build a European system” in the medium term.

A British-French military summit has been announced for November  and no doubt an announcement will be made then.

Meanwhile the push towards greater autonomy for drones continues.  At this week’s C4SIR conference in Washington, US Airforce Colonel JR Gear, the USAF Director of Remotely Piloted Aircraft Task Force urged us to embrace drone autonomy.  According to Henry Kenyon writing for Defense Systems, Gear said:  

Multi-aircraft control technology allows a pilot to manage several UAVs, while autonomous fight software can provide robot aircraft with the ability to carry out their missions with minimal supervision. The two capabilities could dramatically cut the number of personnel required to maintain an airborne presence in the region. Some 570 pilots are currently required to manage 50 UAV orbits. The new technology could cut this number to 150 pilots.

Kenyon’s excellent article goes on to look at the recent US military document, Technology Horizons, which examines key science and technology needs for the USAF over the next 20 years.  On the issue of drones  

 By 2030 technology will have reached the point that humans will be the weakest part of the system. Humans and machines will have to work more closely through new types of interfaces and by directly augmenting human performance. This could include drugs or implants to improve memory, alertness and cognition. The service is even considering the use of human brain waves or genetics to control and manage systems.