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Extended RAF Shadow fleet to include trainer conversion

Expanding the UK Royal Air Force’s Raytheon Shadow R1 signals intelligence fleet from five to eight operational units – as revealed by the nation's government in November – will include the conversion of one configured as a trainer, plus two new-builds.

The decision to increase the size of the fleet – currently six-strong including the Gama Aviation-operated trainer – was announced by the government in November's Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR). The new aircraft are expected to be in service from 2019, with the R1 to continue to operate until "at least 2030".

Raytheon says that while a contract covering the growth has not yet been signed, the conversion of the trainer to an operational configuration is planned to take place at the company’s facility in Broughton, Wales. This is expected to be the first of the three Beechcraft King Air 350 CE-derived aircraft available.

The modification will include integration with a roll-on, roll-off mission system, potentially allowing the Shadow to be employed in a training role in future.

Flightglobal’s Fleets Analyzer database reveals that the current aircraft range between five and eight years in age, making the 2030 retirement date achievable.

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The RAF’s Raytheon Sentinel R1 surveillance platform was also given a life extension in the SDSR, committing it to remain in service “into the next decade”, which the company says will be until 2021. Although one of the five-strong inventory is earmarked for retirement by the end of 2016, Raytheon is confident this can be postponed.

A company source tells Flightglobal the acquisition of the Boeing P-8 Poseidon maritime patrol aircraft – which includes a Raytheon-developed radar – will not include an overland surveillance capability initially, so Sentinel could possibly be required past 2021 to provide this.

Raytheon also hopes to sell the platform internationally, with lndia and South Korea understood to be interested in the Bombardier Global Express-derived type.

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