Britain is spending a billion dollars to upgrade its UAV fleet and replace its ten MQ-9 Reapers with 26 Protectors (also known as Predator B). The Protector is actually a 4.6 ton Reaper with some special modifications. For one thing Protector is equipped with “sense and avoid” technology that complies with European regulations for the use of large UAVs in or near civilian air space. Protector is also modified to handle British weapons like Brimstone and Paveway IV.
Sense and avoid is a major problem worldwide although it is worse in Europe. In the United States the army developed a radar system (GBSAA or Ground-Based Sense And Avoid) to increase safety for UAVs operating in busy airspace. GBSAA is mainly a software system using existing radars to track UAVs and manned aircraft and alert UAV operators when their UAVs are too close to other aircraft (manned or unmanned). GBSAA can be expanded to use transponders (which commercial aircraft have been using for a long time) and more flexible software. But the basic idea is to insure that UAV operators are no longer “blind” to what is in the air nearby. GBSAA had its first field test in 2013 and it was a success. The first GBSAA deployed in 2015 and five more bases will have it soon.
GBSAA will likely be more in demand by potential civilian UAV users. Battlefields have much lower safety standards than civilian air space, what with all those artillery and mortar shells, plus the bullets and rockets. But civilian air space has a lot of small aircraft and helicopters, so UAVs are generally banned. GBSAA could change that and make battlefields safer as the UAV traffic becomes denser.