Nov. 6 (UPI) -- The U.S. Air Force has awarded General Atomics Aeronautical Systems a $263.4 million contract for production of the MQ-9 Reaper surveillance and strike drone.
Production on the contract, announced Monday by the Department of Defense, will consist of the fiscal 2018 production configuration Reaper, with Air Force fiscal 2017 and 2018 aircraft procurement funding in the full amount being obligated to the company.
Manufacturing is estimated to run through November 2021.
The MQ-9 SkyGuardian, better known as the Reaper, is a development of the much older MQ-1 Predator and is designed to be larger and capable of carrying bigger payloads of sensors and heavier weapons.
It is designed primarily for attack missions, precision strikes against point targets, surveillance, air support and reconnaissance.
The Reaper has long-range and extended loiter time over target and carries the advanced Multi-Spectral Targeting System for target detection, surveillance and strike missions.The MSTS includes infrared cameras, laser designators, and video systems with satellite datalinks that allow its sensor data to be shared across networks.
The Reaper has a higher cruising speed then the Predator and a flight ceiling of up to 40,000 feet, putting it above ground fire, with the exception of advanced surface-to-air missiles. The drones can be armed with laser and GPS-guided missiles and bombs like the Hellfire, GBU-12 Paveway, and Joint Direct Attack Munitions.
The Reaper has been widely exported to U.S. allies, including NATO members and India.