A CONTRACT worth £195m has been signed for 13 additional remotely piloted RAF Protectors — and key parts will be made on the Island.

Defence minister Jeremy Quin announced the new contract during a visit to GKN Aerospace (GKNA) at East Cowes today.

The RAF is to have a fleet of 16 Protector aircraft — the first UK operated system capable of strike missions anywhere in the world.

The Protector programme is supporting more than 200 UK jobs and will see £400 million reinvested into British industry.

Garry Hernes, site director for GKN Aerospace on the Island, told the County Press today: “Our East Cowes site has been a fixture on the Isle of Wight for 100 years and we are extremely proud of that heritage, as well as excited about the future.

"Today, the facility is at the forefront of the global aerospace industry as a centre of excellence for advanced composites, and the V-tails we are producing for the Protector programme are a cutting-edge example of that work.

"Through our long-term partnerships with customers such as General Atomics, we are not only helping support the Island’s economy and securing jobs, but also ensuring the Isle of Wight plays a key role in supporting the servicemen and women of the UK.

"This is both a responsibility and a privilege for the GKN Aerospace Cowes team, and something we look forward to doing for many years to come.”

Isle of Wight County Press: GKN in East Cowes, with, inset, Garry Hernes, site director.

GKN in East Cowes, with, inset, Garry Hernes, site director.

Protector is a Remotely Piloted Aircraft System (RPAS) that will provide critical surveillance capability for the RAF and will be equipped with a suite of surveillance equipment and precision strike weapons to deploy against potential adversaries around the globe, all while being operated from RAF Waddington in Lincolnshire.

The 16 aircraft ordered from General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc (GA-ASI) are expected to enter service with the RAF by mid-2024, doubling the capability currently provided by Reaper. The investment also includes four additional ground control stations and associated support equipment.

In East Cowes, Minister Quin saw first-hand how the programme benefits UK industry as they manufacture the V-tails for Protector and other SkyGuardian variants for customers across the world, including Belgium and Australia, following their partnership with GA-ASI.

He said: "Our fleet of 16 Protector aircraft equipped with ultra-modern technology will provide the RAF with a vast global reach allowing us to monitor and protect the battlespace for hours on end.

“The Protector programme involves industry across the UK with vital parts of the aircraft manufactured on the Isle of Wight, supporting highly-skilled jobs for years to come.”

Later this year, Protector’s capability will be demonstrated in the UK.

A SkyGuardian aircraft will take to the skies in Lincolnshire before taking part in Exercise Joint Warrior from RAF Lossiemouth.

Protector will have to meet stringent NATO and UK safety certification standards meaning it could operate in civilian airspace.

It therefore will also be available, if requested, to support civilian agencies in the UK, for example in search and rescue and disaster response missions.

The fleet will also have advanced anti-icing and lightning protection, providing the RAF with unprecedented flexibility to operate in adverse weather conditions.

The aircraft will use enhanced data links and carry next-generation, low collateral, precision strike weapons - the UK-made Brimstone missile and Paveway IV Laser Guided Bomb.