May 13 (UPI) -- Northrop Grumman has been awarded a $163.6 million contract for support services on the U.S. Army's fleet of MQ-5B Hunter drones.
The company will operate, engineer, reconfigure and maintain the unmanned aerial systems as part of the new contract, the Department of Defense said Friday.
Work will be performed at Northrop Grumman's plant in Sierra Vista, Ariz., with the contract estimated to run through May 9, 2020.
Army fiscal 2019 operations and maintenance in the amount of $41.8 million were obligated at the time of the award.
The Hunter unmanned aircraft system has been in operation since 1996 and surpassed 100,000 combat hours in 2014.
The RQ-5A Hunter was the Army's first fielded UAS, flying its final flight in Army service at Fort Hood, Texas, in 2015. The MQ-5B is the next-generation Hunter, "continuing a legacy of service to Army corps, division and brigade warfighters,:" according to Northrop Grumman.
It flies over the battlefield with its multiple sensors, gathering information in real time and relaying it via video link to commanders and soldiers on the ground.
The MQ-5B Hunter supports contingency operations around the world with reconnaissance, surveillance, target acquisition, communications relay and weapons delivery.
The drone has a fixed-wing, twin tail-boom design with redundant control systems powered by two heavy fuel engines -- one engine to "push" and another to "pull" the air vehicle. Its relay mode allows one Hunter to be controlled by another UAV at extended ranges or over terrain obstacles, including those found in the Balkans and Afghanistan.