RAF’s Shadow surveillance aircraft fleet will be increased and upgraded

The RAF’s Shadow surveillance aircraft fleet will be increased and upgraded with the latest defensive technology in a £110 million contract awarded to Raytheon UK. 

The current fleet of Shadow surveillance aircraft fleet will be upgraded with the latest UK Sovereign Defensive Aids Systems (DAS). The improved state-of-the-art DAS increases the plane’s ability to defend itself while allowing it to continue intelligence-gathering in unfriendly airspace.

As part of the contract, the current fleet of six aircraft will increase to eight.

“Our newly upgraded Shadow Mk2 aircraft be equipped with world-leading technology developed right here in the UK. This investment supports vital defence outputs and 150 high-quality jobs in North Wales.” Defence Minister Jeremy Quin

The Shadow aircraft uses high-definition electro-optical and electronic sensors to gather intelligence. Once the data is gathered, satellite communication links enable the information to be downloaded and assessed while the aircraft remains airborne during a mission. 

“This contract is the result of collaborative working between DE&S and industry and ensures the RAF has the world-class capability needed to protect the UK’s interests against ever-evolving threats.” DE&S CEO, Sir Simon Bollom

Based at RAF Waddington and flown by 14 Squadron, Shadow forms a key part of the RAF’s Intelligence, Surveillance, Target Acquisition and Reconnaissance (ISTAR) force by gathering intelligence via its high-definition electro-optical and electronic sensors.

The RAF is expected to receive the first upgraded Shadow surveillance aircraft in June 2023, with delivery of the eighth Shadow R Mk2 jet scheduled to take place by 2025.

“The signing of this contract with Raytheon is huge news for North Wales and testament to the incredibly skilled local workforce whose hard work, dedication and professionalism have rightly been recognised. This is levelling up in action – the UK Government, working with our partners and using our spending power to support jobs and prosperity in every part of the UK.” Welsh Secretary Simon Hart

Supporting 150 highly-skilled jobs at Broughton, including specialist aerospace skills and apprentices, and roles at Raytheon’s sites at RAF Waddington and Harlow, the contract will also sustain around 350 further jobs across the UK supply chain.

“This investment will enable the Shadow fleet to be increased in size and equipped with the latest technology providing a key capability as part of the RAF’s next generation Air Force. It is expected the first upgraded aircraft will be delivered to the RAF in June 2023, with delivery of the eighth Shadow R Mk2 aircraft before the end of 2025” Shadow Programme Senior Responsible Owner, Group Captain Shaun Gee RAF

The investment for an upgraded Shadow fleet forms part of the vision laid out in the Defence Command Paper, which is ensuring that the Armed Forces are prepared for new and emerging threats. This ambition is underpinned by a £24 billion increase in defence spending over next four years.

Shadow R1


Through a combination of sensors, Shadow contributes to the comprehensive intelligence gathering of the RAFs ISTAR Force. Its output is particularly valuable to ground commanders.


The Shadow’s high definition electro-optical and electronic sensors complement other platforms and capabilities, helping analysts prepare comprehensive intelligence products.  Satellite communications links enable information to be downloaded and off-boarded during a mission and the aircraft is also fitted with a defensive aids suite.


Originally a Beechcraft product, subsequently marketed as Beech and then Hawker Beechcraft under Raytheon ownership, and now regarded as a Beechcraft product under Textron Aviation, the King Air has most recently been developed into the King Air 350.  More capable than earlier versions, the King Air 350 was selected as a special missions platform from the outset against an urgent need to improve intelligence gathering in Afghanistan.

This requirement led the MOD to commission an initial four Shadow R Mark 1 aircraft, based on the King Air 350CER, under an Urgent Operational Requirement.  Delivered to the RAF to be operated by 5 (AC) Squadron in 2009, the Shadow features an under fuselage electro-optical sensor turret, a variety of integrated sensors and an extensive communications capability, managed from operator consoles in the cabin.

Number 5 (AC) Squadron’s Shadow Flight became 14 Squadron in 2011, after the former Tornado unit disbanded at RAF Lossiemouth under the 2010 Strategic Defence and Security Review.  The Shadow capability was moved from Urgent Operational Requirement status into the core MOD Equipment Programme through the 2015 Strategic Defence and Security Review and the fleet expanded to six Shadow R1.  The existing Shadow fleet is being upgraded, and further expanded to eight aircraft, under the Shadow Mk2 Upgrade Programme.


Based at

  • RAF Waddington

Flying with

  • 14 Squadron
  • 54 Squadron

Beechcraft Shadow R.Mk 1:

  • Powerplant: Two Pratt & Whitney PT6A 1050 Shp turboprop engines
  • Length: 46ft 8in (14.26m)
  • Height: 14ft 7in (4.48m)
  • Wingspan: 57ft 11in (17.40m)
  • Wing area: 310sqft (28.80m2)
  • Maximum cruising speed: 245kt (453km/h)
  • Maximum altitude: 35,000ft

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