The U.S. Air Force has awarded General Atomics – Aeronautical Systems a $263 million contract for the production of MQ-9 Reaper drones, the Department of Defense said.
The $263,403,355 award is for an unspecified number of MQ-9 aircraft in the fiscal 2018 production configuration, the Monday, November 5 release said.
Work is expected to be complete by November 30, 2021.
Launched in 2001, the MQ-9 Reaper is the first remotely-piloted unmanned aerial vehicle designed for high-altitude endurance missions and can operate autonomously for both intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance missions and precision strikes.
The MQ-9 Reaper drone can currently use AGM-114 Hellfire missiles, GBU-12 Paveway II 500-pound laser-guided bombs, and, since May 2017, 500-pound GBU-38 Joint Direct Attack Munitions (JDAMs).
The U.S. has since awarded General Atomics a contract to integrate the GBU-39B/B glide bomb on to the MQ-9, which will give the drone both a significant stand-off capability and the ability to carry out more strikes per mission due to the weapon’s smaller size.
The latest MQ-9 variant, Predator B ER, has field-retrofittable capabilities including wing-borne fuel pods and reinforced landing gear that extends the drone’s flight endurance to 34 hours. A variant in development to meet NATO standards will have an endurance time of 40 hours and be capable of surviving both bird and lightning strikes, according to the company.
The Defense Department contract did not specify the number or variant ordered or the customer.
The Reaper is used by the U.S. Air Force, Department of Homeland Security, NASA and the air forces of the Australia, France, Italy and the United Kingdom. Belgium, India and Spain have plans to acquire the drone.