RAF’s Surveillance Aircraft Gets Cutting-Edge Weapons, for the Most Dangerous Missions

The Shadow MK2 will boast the same impressive surveillance capabilities, but also upgraded defense capabilities. 7 photos
Photo: Corporal Steve Buckley
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The UK’s Royal Air Force (RAF) is moving things forward on multiple fronts – after having increased its submarine-hunter fleet and demonstrated new aircraft refueling capabilities, it has recently given almost $150 million (£110 million) boost to its surveillance aircraft fleet, aptly-called Shadow.
The world’s most powerful armed forces initiate upgrading programs for various military vehicles on a regular basis. Now, it was the turn for the Shadow aircraft, one of RAF’s most important surveillance and intelligence assets, to increase in number and capabilities. Raytheon UK was awarded a contract to enlarge the current fleet from six to eight and integrate cutting-edge technology on all the Shadow aircraft.

Shadow plays an important part in RAF’s Intelligence, Surveillance, Target Acquisition, and Reconnaissance (ISTAR) force. Equipped with high-definition electro-optical and electronic sensors, this “spy aircraft gathers intelligence, which is then transmitted and analyzed while the Shadow is still in flight, thanks to satellite communication links.

Although its primary role is information gathering, the Shadow still needs to be able to protect itself during surveillance missions, especially in high-risk areas. This is why it will now also be equipped with the latest state-of-the-art Defensive Aids System. The upgraded Shadow MK2 will become a vital part of the next-generation Air Force, as this program is part of a larger defense strategy.

According to RAF, around $32 billion (£24 billion) will be invested over the next four years to upgrade the British military, in the face of new emerging threats.

Shadow is based on the King Air, a Beechcraft product. The King Air 350 was the most advanced version, which was selected by the British Ministry of Defense (MOD) due to “an urgent need to improve intelligence gathering in Afghanistan.” The first Shadow aircraft were delivered to RAF in 2009. They are currently operated by 14 Squadron, based at RAF Waddington.

The first upgraded Shadow MK2 is expected to be delivered by the middle of 2023, and the fleet will be complete by the end of 2025.
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About the author: Otilia Drăgan
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Otilia believes that if it’s eco, green, or groundbreaking, people should know about it (especially if it's got wheels or wings). Working in online media for over five years, she's gained a deeper perspective on how people everywhere can inspire each other.
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