USAF Awards Contract to General Atomics to Modernise MQ-9A Reaper UAVs

USAF Awards Contract to General Atomics to Modernise MQ-9A Reaper UAVs

The US Air Force (USAF) has entered into a substantial $174 million contract with General Atomics to modernize four of its Reaper drones. This endeavor, slated for completion by early 2029, is supported by a foreign military sales (FMS) agreement with the Royal Netherlands Air Force.

The modernization initiative encompasses not only the four MQ-9A Reaper drones but also includes enhancements to two ground control stations, provision of support equipment, spare parts, and upgrade kits. General Atomics Aeronautical Systems has been tasked with executing this contract, operating from its Poway site in California. The project’s deadline is set for January 15, 2029, under the supervision of the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center based at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base (AFB) in Ohio, responsible for managing the lifespan of USAF assets.

It is noteworthy that a significant portion of the contract’s value, amounting to $85,048,549, is attributed to an FMS contract with the Netherlands. This contribution represents approximately half of the total contract value. The Royal Netherlands Air Force has recently intensified its commitment to acquiring Reaper drones, doubling its initial order from four to eight in August 2023. With its first MQ-9A Block 5 drone and ground control station received in 2022, the RNLAF anticipates the arrival of four additional Reapers starting in 2026. A recent agreement with General Atomics aims to enhance the capabilities of its drone fleet, incorporating features such as extended fuel tanks, electronic support measures, and maritime radars.

The MQ-9A Reaper, manufactured by General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, is a combat drone currently in service. It made its maiden flight on February 2, 2001, and was commissioned on May 1, 2007. This crewless drone is piloted by two ground controllers.

Powered by a Honeywell TPE-331-10T turboprop engine, the Reaper boasts impressive dimensions, with a wingspan of 20 meters, a length of 11 meters, and a height of 3.56 meters. Its wing area is 11.5 square meters. The empty weight of the aircraft is 2,220 kg, with a maximum takeoff weight of 4,540 kg.

In terms of performance, the MQ-9A Reaper can reach a maximum speed of 480 km/h and a stall speed of 100 km/h. Its operational ceiling is 15,200 meters, and it can cover a range of 1,850 km. Its wing loading is 44.57 kg/m² when empty and 88.746 kg/m2 at takeoff.

Regarding armament, the Reaper can be equipped with 4 or 8 AGM-114 Hellfire air-to-ground missiles, as well as 2 AIM-92 Stinger air-to-air missiles and 2 GBU-12 Paveway II bombs, mounted on external hardpoints.

However, with an estimated acquisition cost of $30 million per drone, in addition to maintenance and operational expenses, losses can be financially significant. The US encountered a total of three drone losses last year, and another drone was shot down in February over Yemen. Beyond the USAF, several international military allies, including France, Italy, Japan, and the UK, operate the MQ-9, with over 350 units built since its induction into service in 2007. The drone has been extensively deployed in conflict zones, including Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, and Yemen.

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