Italy and Germany have requested to buy unarmed General Atomics MQ-9/Predator Bs from the US government, further raising the stakes in the active European market for medium-altitude, long-endurance unmanned air systems.
Neither request - made public by the US Defense Security Cooperation Agency in a required notification to Congress - is yet linked to an approved order.
Germany's Bundeswehr is still evaluating the MQ-9 and the Israel Aerospace Industries Heron TP for a contract award scheduled for later this year. Italy is expected to buy the MQ-9 after a new government approves the military's previous selection.
But the DSCA notice will allow both countries to quickly sign contracts if the MQ-9 is approved. Moreover, the two requests mark a key step in General Atomics' six-year-old campaign to sell the MQ-9 as a solution for widespread MALE interest in Europe. The process may also help blunt the impact of last month's unveiling of the BAE Systems Mantis UAS, a key new competitor for the Reaper in the UK.
"When you gel the performance of the company and combine with the proven capabilities of the aircraft people take notice and want to join the bandwagon," said Chris Ames, General Atomics director of business development.
The MQ-9 is already deployed in Afghanistan with the USA and UK. The USA has since July also deployed the Reaper in Iraq. The UK is currently the only European nation equipped the Reaper.
The UK requested a foreign military sale last December for a possible $1 billion purchase of 10 further Reapers plus five mobile ground control stations, spares, training and logistical support.
With BAE unveiling the armed Mantis UAS technology demonstrator programme in July, it is now doubtful as to whether the UK will proceed with orders for further Reapers. Mantis is due to make its maiden flight in early 2009.
Ames, however, says he understands that the UK military is "quite pleased with the performance of the Reaper and they have been pleased with the performance of the company as well".
Germany has requested the possible purchase of five Reapers and four mobile ground control stations plus support, training and spares. The value of Germany's procurement of the Reaper, if exercised, would be about $205 million.
Italy's request is for four Reapers, four mobile ground control stations, five years of maintenance support, training and spares at a cost of $330 million.