Block 1 Sky Warrior moves into low-rate initial production

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Drone manufacturer General Atomics has begun low-rate initial production on the next version of the Block 1 MQ-1C Sky Warrior for the US Army's Army's Extended Range/Multi-Purpose (ER/MP) programme, the company says.

The US Department of Defense has already paid General Atomics $195.5 million of the $399 million contract to cover the cost of supplemental hardware and LRIP costs. Full funding for the total of 34 Sky Warrior unmanned air vehicles is expected later this summer. The deal also includes 16 ground control systems to be built by AAI and airborne and ground tactical control datalink (TCDL) equipment produced by L-3 Communications West, as well automatic landing systems, spare parts and other support equipment. An LRIP II award is expected at the end of this year or in early 2011.

 © US Army

Eight previously funded aircraft will be delivered in December 2011, with the first batch of 12 LRIP Warriors set for delivery in mid-2012 and the second by the end of the year. Two additional attrition aircraft have been added to the LRIP lot.

The weaponised medium-altitude, long-endurance unmanned system is replacing the RQ-5 Hunter and RQ-7 Shadow.

Slightly larger than its Predator predecessor, the Warrior platform has already logged more than 145,000 flight hours in service with the US Army in Iraq and Afghanistan since its introduction in 2006. The ER/MP deal was broken up into several phases due to immediate operational needs, with each phase building on engine capability and payload capacity increases.

The Block I ER/MP variant will be capable of autolanding, have a 260kg (570lb) internal and 225kg external maximum payload capacity and the ability to carry four Hellfire missiles.

In late April, General Atomics was awarded an additional $55.8 million contract for four more Block I MQ-1Cs for the army's initial operational test and evaluation needs; testing is set to being in September 2011. That deal also includes two ground stations.