The US Air Force has unveiled a $5.7 billion expansion of its General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Predator fleet, buying 140 more aircraft to stand up a total of 15 squadrons.

The move is likely to involve continued purchases of the baseline MQ-1L Predator and at least 60 more MQ-9 Predator B aircraft to perform the armed "hunter-killer" mission. Fifteen Predator Bs are already contracted by the US Air Force, with about eight delivered, says General Atomics marketing manager John Porter.

The USAF's extra requirement coincides with surging new interest from US civil and military buyers, as well as potential foreign customers. The US border patrol and the National Oceanic Atmospheric Association both plan flight demonstrations using Predator or the NASA-owned Altair vehicle.

The US Army is assessing the results of a competitive fly-off in which the Predator B Warrior design flew against the Northrop Grumman Hunter II vehicle for the extended-range/multi-purpose UAV contract. A downselect is expected in April.

Source: Flight International