We’ve updated our directory of current UK aerial drones and drone development programmes and wanted to highlight that, while drones have been mainly the preserve of the Air Force, they are now increasingly being acquired and used by the British Army and the Royal Navy. Meanwhile, although the MoD is keen to point to the imminent arrival of its new armed drone, which they have dubbed ‘The Protector’, problems lie ahead.
Protector problems ahead
The replacement for the UK’s Reaper drone – dubbed ‘the Protector’ by the UK but called SkyGuardian by the manufacturer (and everyone else really) – is supposed to be in service by mid-2024. While the first aircraft from the production line has been delivered to the RAF it remains in the US for on-going testing and training. However, two significant problems need to be addressed over the next 18 months before these drones become operational.
Firstly, recruitment and retention of personnel to operate the drones has been an on-going problem as Sir Stephen Lovegrove, then MoD permanent secretary, told the Commons public accounts committee in 2020. This is likely to be even more so now as crews will be based permanently in Lincoln rather than having the option of being deployed to the sunnier climes of Las Vegas, after the UK shut down its US-based drone operations.
The RAF partly overcame recruitment issues by drafting in Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) pilots. As the RAAF was set to purchase SkyGuardian drones it made sense to the RAAF to send pilots to operate UK armed drones as they would then get training and experience of using these systems before their drones arrived in Australia. However in April 2022, Australia abruptly cancelled its planned purchase of SkyGuardian drones due to budget problems following the setting up of AUKUS alliance and the plan to build new nuclear submarines. Given this, it seems likely the RAAF will not be so keen to provide personnel for the UK’s drone programme for much longer. Read more