General Atomics has won the United Kingdom’s MQ-9 drone contract worth $13 million.
“General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc. has been awarded a $12.9 million contract for the United Kingdom MQ-9 Second Operating Location Alternate Reaper (SOLAR),” a U.S. DoD release today said.
Production of one MQ-9 Reaper Block 1, Lynx Synthetic Aperture Radar, Embedded Global Positioning System Inertial Navigation System, and United Kingdom specific modifications will be performed stateside and is expected to be completed July 1, 2021.
The MQ-9 Reaper is a remotely piloted medium-altitude, long endurance (MALE) aircraft designed for Intelligence, Surveillance, Target Acquisition and Reconnaissance (ISTAR), and attack missions.
A crew comprising a pilot, sensor operator and mission intelligence co-ordinator flies Reaper from a remote ground control station (GCS). An in-theatre launch and recovery team is responsible for its ground operations. The operational crew controls the aircraft, its sensors and weapons system via an advanced, secure satellite communication system, providing over-the-horizon data link capability from bases in the UK and United States.
Two cameras in the aircraft’s forward fuselage provide a forward view for the crew on landing and take-off, while a full sensor suite, with targeting, daylight TV and infrared capabilities is turret mounted beneath Reaper’s forward fuselage. An internal synthetic aperture radar completes the MQ-9’s sensor suite.
The UK Royal Air Force (RAF)’s association with Reaper has its origins in 1115 Flight, formed under the Combined Joint Predator Task Force in January 2004. This embedded UK personnel in US Predator operations, providing a core of expertise when Reaper training began in December 2006. Operations in Afghanistan began in 2007, 39 Sqn working out of Creech Air Force Base, Nevada with an initial six aircraft, although one of these was subsequently lost.
Five additional aircraft were contracted in 2012 and on October 26, XIII Sqn re-formed in preparation for operations from RAF Waddington. Reaper had been scheduled to go out of service in 2015, but has since been heavily committed to Operation Shader. The 2015 Strategic Defence and Security Review confirmed that a replacement RPAS would be sought to include more than 20 aircraft for delivery from 2018.
In April 2016 the MoD announced selection of Protector, based on the Certifiable Predator B, to replace Reaper, while U.S. State Department approval provides for as many as 26 airframes, as 16 confirmed and ten options. New GCS will also be acquired and UK weapons could be integrated.