The General Atomics training and flight test center, recently established in Grand Forks, North Dakota, has quickly become a focal point of conversation. This budding facility has already piqued the interest of global military circles.

The center has welcomed British remote pilots from the esteemed No. 54 Squadron of the Royal Air Force earlier this week. Their mission is to undertake intensive training in anticipation of the arrival of the first Protector RG.1 next year.

The ‘Hangar 2’, as it is known, is a significant development in tactical reconnaissance and ground assault missions, thanks to the new MALE drone derived from the MQ-9B SkyGuardian. The drone’s training program, scheduled to take place in the northern United States, is expected to last twelve weeks.

The facility, officially known as the Flight Test & Training Center (FTTC), was unveiled on Wednesday, August 9, 2023. It is located in Grand Forks, a city uniquely positioned on the border of two US states – Minnesota and North Dakota.

The FTTC’s primary role is to manage all activities related to the Reaper family of unmanned aircraft. It also serves as the training hub for future MQ-1C Gray Eagle and MQ-20 Avenger remote pilots and instructors.

The No. 54 Squadron, supported by dedicated systems operators and sharp coordinators from British intelligence, have set up their temporary base here. The transition from their home base at RAF Waddington in eastern England to North Dakota may necessitate some changes in their operational procedures. However, their extensive experience with MALE drones ensures they are well-prepared to adapt to any potential changes.

Most of the personnel have already undertaken operational tasks on the Reaper. After completing their intensive training in the United States, they are expected to impart the skills and tactics they’ve learned, ensuring a seamless integration of the first Protector RG.1 in early 2024.

Following the unfortunate cancellation of the Franco-British Telemos program, the Royal Air Force commissioned the development of the Protectors as replacements for the original Reapers. Despite the strategic collaboration between manufacturing giants BAE Systems and Dassault Aviation, disagreements led to the project’s termination.

In a tactical decision, the British government turned to General Atomics and their advanced MQ-9B SkyGuardian. This cutting-edge drone, rebranded as the Protector RG.1, has been carefully enhanced by the American manufacturer.

The main goal of this enhancement was to enable the drone to carry local ammunition, including the highly effective Brimstone air-to-ground missile and potentially the SPEAR3 in the future. Both are products of MBDA’s British division.

The Royal Air Force isn’t the only user of the General Atomics MQ-9B SkyGuardian. The esteemed Royal Australian Air Force has also acquired this advanced equipment, with units expected by 2026.

As part of its strategic expansion, General Atomics has identified other potential customers interested in this technologically advanced drone, including Aeronautica Militare and the Air and Space Force. These potential acquisitions are not surprising given these air forces’ existing use of the manufacturer’s products.