The UK Ministry of Defence plans to expand to 13 its fleet of General Atomics MQ-9 Reaper (Predator B) unmanned air vehicles, with the US Defense Security Cooperation Agency having announced the receipt of a $1 billion foreign military sales request for 10 airframes, plus related sensors, equipment and support.

Notified to US Congress on 19 December, the possible sale will also include five ground control stations, nine General Atomics Lynx synthetic aperture radar/ground moving target indication sensors and nine MTS-B multi-spectral targeting system payloads. Produced by Raytheon, the latter system is a turret-housed design which incorporates electro-optical/infrared, laser designator and target illumination sensors.

 RAF Reaper
© Crown Copyright

The UK's first of three currently contracted Reaper UAVs, which are being acquired under urgent operational requirement deals to support operations in Afghanistan, made its unarmed debut sortie from Kandahar airfield last October. The Royal Air Force's 39 Sqn confirmed late last year that the type would begin carrying weapons from mid-December, with 30 GBU-12 226kg (500lb) laser-guided bombs having previously been released during trials.

Designated a "hunter-killer" UAV by launch operator the US Air Force, the Reaper can also carry stores including Lockheed Martin AGM-114 Hellfire air-to-surface missiles (pictured below on USAF MQ-9).

 USAF Reaper
© US Air Force

Increasing the number of "orbits" involving continuous coverage of an area using UAVs should also enable the UK to reduce its surveillance demands on types such as the RAF's British Aerospace Nimrod MR2 maritime patrol aircraft, while the ability to carry weapons also potentially offers shortened sensor-to-shooter times against time-critical targets.

"This [acquisition] programme will increase the UK's ability to contribute to future NATO, coalition and anti-terrorism operations that the US may undertake," says the DSCA.