UNMANNED

General Atomics, Northrop awarded drone production funds

Both General Atomics and Northrop Grumman have received orders worth more than $300 million each to produce new units of their larger-profile unmanned aerial vehicles.

The Air Force awarded General Atomics an estimated $400 million contract for 36 MQ-9 Reaper strike aircraft and the Navy gave Northrop a $304 million modification for three MQ-4C Triton surveillance drones. General Atomics’ contract covers work through April 2020 and Northrop’s modification has an end date of April 2021.

A presentation from the Center for the Study of the Drone says Reaper and Triton are respectively the largest unmanned procurement spending items for the Air Force and Navy in the Defense Department’s fiscal year 2017 budget.  The Air Force plans $906.1 million in spending on the Reaper program that includes 24 new aircraft purchases and The Navy has set aside $579 million for two more Tritons in FY 2017.

Reaper is the heavier, larger successor to General Atomics’ Predator drone that is slated for full retirement in early 2018 after 21 years of flight. The Air Force is phasing out the Predator in favor of an all-Reaper unmanned air vehicle fleet.

Triton cleared a Navy “Milestone C” evaluation in September 2016 to enter low-rate initial production. The Navy subsequently awarded Northrop a pair of contracts to build an initial three LRIP Triton units along with support equipment and spares.

Northrop bested Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman in 2008 for the program then known as Broad Area Maritime Surveillance that became Triton in 2012. Triton is a Navy-specific variant of Northrop’s RQ-4 Global Hawk surveillance aircraft.

About the Author

Ross Wilkers is a senior staff writer for Washington Technology. He can be reached at rwilkers@washingtontechnology.com. Follow him on Twitter: @rosswilkers. Also find and connect with him on LinkedIn.

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