New ‘Protector’ armed drones to begin flying in UK – Join the protest on 13 November


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 2022Read more

Why we oppose today’s planned UK space launch

Protestors gathered at Newquay ‘Spaceport’ in October 2022 to oppose UK space launch

Tonight’s planned space launch from Newquay ‘spaceport’ is the latest step in a new era of expansion into space by the military with the UK wholeheartedly joining a space arms race which will inevitably lead to greater risk of instability and conflict.

Space is rapidly becoming a key domain for military operations as modern wars rely heavily on space-based assets for command and control,  surveillance,  intelligence gathering, missile warning and supporting forces deployed overseas. Satellites also enable communications links for military and security forces, including communications needed to remotely fly armed drones.

Over the past two years we have seen the setting up of UK Space Command, the publication of a Defence Space Strategy outlining how the MoD will “protect the UK’s national interests in space” and the announcement of a portfolio of new military programmes to develop space assets and infrastructure.   MoD ministers have openly stated that they now determine space to be a war fighting domain.

As well as today’s planned launch – which will see at least two pairs of military satellites placed in space – ground has been broken on a new spaceport in the Shetland Isles.

Protestors at Newquay Airport, October 2022. Credit: Phil Green/Peter Burt

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Say No to US Military Drone Tests in UK Skies!

This summer the US drone company General Atomics is bringing the latest version of its Predator drone – called ‘SkyGuardian’ – to undertake test flights over England and Scotland from RAF Waddington in Lincolnshire, and RAF Lossiemouth, north of Inverness.  Civil society groups and journalists have documented hundreds, if not thousands, of innocent civilians who have been killed in US drone strikes around the globe. However the drone wars continue to expand, and these flights are to demonstrate the new drone to European and other militaries as well as trialling new technology that will enable such drones to fly in civil airspace.

Further background: New details of US drone flights in UK this summer raise concerns over safety and corporate cronyism.  Read more

Why we persist in opposing the growing use of armed drones

Campaigners protest outside RAF Waddington, October 2018

Over the past two weeks, campaigners have been in New York taking part in meetings at the UN urging diplomats to control the proliferation and use of armed drones.  Drone Wars UK was one of the more than 50 organisations signing a joint statement released to coincide with the meetings.  Here in the UK, despite freezing wet weather, campaigners also held a protest at RAF Waddington in Lincolnshire calling for an end to the growing use of armed drones. Read more