The United Kingdom’s current drone fleet is made up primarily of aircraft purchased from the U.S.
But the country is now working on its own unmanned aerial vehicle dubbed “The Protector” which will feature specialized sensors and will be armed with Britain’s Brimstone missile, a low-collateral-damage version of America’s Hellfire missile.
The Protector drone is based on the Predator-B and is being created by the Predator’s manufacturer, General Atomics Aeronautical Systems.
Britain owns 10 Reaper drones but was never able to fly them in European airspace. That’s because current drones don’t support certain devices required to fly in American and European civil airspace such as a detect-and-avoid system and an airborne “due regard” radar.
These upgrades would allow the drones to avoid collisions with other aircraft including human-piloted planes.
General Atomics is working on the required radar upgrades as part of the contract with the U.K., but the technology will also support U.S. projects like the MQ-4C, a surveillance UAS for the U.S. Navy.
Drones with collision avoidance systems would be able to legally fly in areas other unmanned aircraft can’t, such as the border regions between the rest of Europe and Russia.
The Protector will also fly on longer wings that will increase its lift capacity as well as its maximum fuel and weapons payload. The design is a compromise which will lower the Protector’s maximum altitude — 45,000 feet versus 50,000 feet in the Predator B — and top speed — 200 knots versus 240 knots.
The other significant upgrade that the Protector will boast is the ability to carry Britain’s Brimstone missile.
The Hellfire is predominantly a laser-guided missile but one variant, the AGM-114L, features radar guidance instead of laser-guidance. Each Brimstone can be guided by either method, meaning pilots can determine the best targeting method in the air instead of having to decide when they load their weapons.
It carries a 14-pound warhead that creates less collateral damage than the Hellfire’s 20-pound warhead, but that also limits its effectiveness against the main battle tanks the Hellfire was designed to kill.