Sept. 18 (UPI) -- A $7.4 billion contract between the U.S. Air Force and General Atomics, announced this week, will field MQ-9 Reaper drones faster, the Air Force said.
The five-year Agile Reaper Enterprise Solution contract for the unmanned surveillance, intelligence, reconnaissance and strike-capability aircraft was awarded on Thursday.
It calls for delivery of up to 36 aircraft per year from the San Diego-based company. With a $7.4 billion ceiling, it is expected to reduce the time to deliver operational MQ-9s to operational units by 35%.
The Air Force regards it as one of its most in-demand weapons, an Air Force Life Cycle Management Center statement said on Thursday.
The ARES contract has a pre-negotiated $3.3 billion price-quantity-curve, allowing the Air Force and foreign military sales partners to order between from four to 36 aircraft in a single year.
Foreign Military Sales partners will be allowed to purchase the Dash 21 variant, which is the NATO-exportable version of the MQ-9A.
"ARES is a big deal because it answers the 'mail' as far as how do we deal with hard-to-predict demand signals from our international partners and enable increased responsiveness to U.S. budget dynamics," said Alicia Morales, aircraft production manager with the Medium Altitude Unmanned Aerial System Program Office.
"So, the team came together and figured out the best and most innovative approach to deal with unplanned requirements, so no matter what comes, we are prepared and able to handle it," said Morales, who mapped out much of ARES .
The MQ-9, whose predecessors have been in use since 2001, is the first unmanned aerial vehicle designed for long-endurance, high-altitude surveillance.
The Air Force has deployed the UAVs around the world, which were in use in August during a joint Army-Navy training exercise over the Black Sea.