General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc., Poway, California, has been awarded a $12,954,626 firm-fixed-price contract for the United Kingdom MQ-9 Second Operating Location Alternate Reaper (SOLAR). 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. This award is the result of a sole-source acquisition and involves 100 percent Foreign Military Sales to the government of the United Kingdom. Foreign Military Sales funds in the full amount are being obligated at the time of award. Air Force Life Cycle Management Center, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, is the contracting activity.
The MQ-9 Reaper (Reaper MQ-9A) is a remotely piloted medium-altitude, long endurance (MALE) aircraft designed for Intelligence, Surveillance, Target Acquisition and Reconnaissance (ISTAR), and attack missions. The aircraft’s persistence and array of surveillance sensors are an essential complement to the RAF’s crewed platforms. A crew comprising a pilot, sensor operator and mission intelligence co-ordinator flies Reaper from a remote ground control station (GCS). 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 US. Two cameras in the aircraft’s forward fuselage provide a forward view for the crew on landing and take-off with targeting, daylight TV and infrared capabilities is turret mounted beneath Reaper’s forward fuselage.
General Atomics had advanced with the design of the more powerful, more capable MQ-1 Predator, which it rolled out in August 1994, against a contract awarded only on January 7. The Predator’s exceptional surveillance capabilities were immediately evident, but no real effort to equip it with targeting systems or weapons occurred until 2000. By summer 2001, successful trials with the AGM-114 Hellfire and an onboard targeting system were complete and the Predator had fired missiles in anger against targets in Afghanistan before year-end. While the MQ-1 was being weaponised, General Atomics was working on a new UAV designated Predator B. Predator B featured a 900shp TPE331 turboprop and was designed for a heavy payload of sensors and weapons. The USAF committed to the Predator B programme under the designation MQ-9A Reaper (Reaper MQ-9A).
The 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. 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 US 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.