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Funding for MQ-9 Reaper drone back in federal budget

The $3.2 trillion spending package passed by Congress this week includes a continuance of U.S. Air Force purchases of the MQ-9 Reaper autonomous aircraft. Photo by Senior Airman Larry E. Reid/U.S. Air Force 
The $3.2 trillion spending package passed by Congress this week includes a continuance of U.S. Air Force purchases of the MQ-9 Reaper autonomous aircraft. Photo by Senior Airman Larry E. Reid/U.S. Air Force 

Dec. 23 (UPI) -- The $3.2 trillion spending package approved this week by Congress includes $286 million for MQ-9 Reaper drones -- weapons previously slated for elimination.

The U.S. Air Force eliminated a line item in its Fiscal Year 2021 budget calling for the MQ-9, instead requesting $172 million in funding to help shut down production at General Atomics' manufacturing facility in Poway, Calif.

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Congress rejected the Air Force plan and will adhere to a Fiscal Year 2020 budget plan by which the Air Force will obtain nine drones in 2021, 17 in 2022, two in 2023 and three in 2024.

The schedule is in accordance with a Sept. 2020 announcement of a contract of up to $7.4 billion with General Atomics for a five-year production plane called the Agile Reaper Enterprise Solution.

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It calls for delivery of up to 36 aircraft per year from the San Diego-based company and is expected to reduce the time to deliver operational MQ-9s to operational units by 35%.

General Atomics recently increased its production of the drone, while awaiting the fate of the program. While the massive spending bill was passed by both houses of Congress, President Donald Trump has threatened to veto it over other matters it contains.

The MQ-9, whose predecessors have been in use since 2001, is the first unmanned aerial vehicle designed for long-endurance, high-altitude surveillance.

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At 36 feet in length and with a wingspan of 65 feet, it is capable of remotely controlled or autonomous flight operations and is used by the U.S. Air Force, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, NASA and 12 other nations.

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