General Atomics Aeronautical Systems received a $123.2 million contract to build MQ-9 Reaper drones for the Royal Netherlands Air Force (Koninklijke Luchtmacht ), the Defense Department announced. The US Department of Defense announced the contract on Thursday. It is reported that the Netherlands has been planning to purchase drones since 2003, but for various reasons, the implementation of these plans has been postponed several times. The purchase was approved by the Defense Security Cooperation Agency, the Defense Department’s agency for foreign arms sales, in 2015 but was delayed until a formal agreement was signed in July 2018.
In addition to four MQ-9 Reaper UAVs, the request also included the delivery of four ground control stations, multispectral target designation systems, satellite communication system terminals, six Honeywell TPE331-10T turboprop engines, General Atomics’ Lynx synthetic aperture radar with Maritime Wide Area Search capability, targeting systems and other equipment. It also included spares and readiness packages to support 3,400 flight hours over three years, as well as training and other services. Royal Netherlands Air Force crews consisting of a pilot and sensor operator have been training at Holloman Air Force Base in New Mexico since December. The first two Dutch crews flew the aircraft in January and they are expected to graduate in May.
The company, headquartered in Poway, Calif., will construct four of the Block 5 remotely piloted MALE UAV, or medium altitude long endurance unmanned aerial vehicle, aircraft, part of a $339 million request in 2015 by the Netherlands defense ministry. The drones purchased by the Netherlands, a NATO ally of the United States, will be assigned to the recently-reopened Leeuwarden Air Base. The majority of the work will be performed at General Atomics’ facilities in Poway, with an expected completion date of Dec. 31, 2020. The Air Force Life Cycle Center at Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio, is the contracting agent.
The MQ-9 Reaper is an armed, multi-mission, medium-altitude, long-endurance remotely piloted aircraft. The drones are largely used for intelligence missions, and can fly at altitudes over 42,000 feet. The UAVs can also be deployed as attack aircraft. The U.S. Air Force announced in June 2017 that in its first combat mission, an MQ-9 Reaper dropped a munitions bomb and fired two Hellfire missiles in a 16-hour sortie against the Islamic State in the Middle East. The Reaper is used by the U.S. Air Force and Department of Homeland Security, NASA, and the air forces of France, Italy, Spain the United Kingdom. Australia, Belgium and India have plans to acquire variants of the drone.