General Atomics has won the Agile Reaper Enterprise Solution (ARES) contract with a ceiling amount of $7.4bn.

The contract has been awarded by the US Air Force (USAF) Life Cycle Management Center’s MQ-9 Program Office.

This contract is expected to support rapid deployment of the MQ-9 Reaper unmanned aircraft system (UAS) and address the rising operational demand for the weapon system.

The MQ-9 UAS is equipped with capabilities to perform intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance and strike missions.

Awarded with a pre-negotiated $3.3bn price-quantity-curve, the fixed indefinite-delivery, indefinite-quantity contract is valid for five years.

It is expected to stabilise the associated costs, permit the USAF and foreign military sales partners to acquire from four to 36 aircraft annually, and decrease delivery time by around 35%.

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Foreign military sales partners will be permitted to order the MQ-9A Nato exportable version, Dash 21 variant.

In addition, the contract includes pre-priced mobile ground control stations, ground data terminal, spares and support equipment.

Medium Altitude Unmanned Aerial System (MAUAS) Program Office aircraft production manager Alicia Morales said: “Prior to ARES, the standard contract award timeline was roughly 380 days. Now, once we have a budget, and it’s in our account, we can award in just a couple of days and field the aircraft in 26 months.

“ARES is a big deal because it answers the ‘mail’ as far as how do we deal with hard-to-predict demand signals from our international partners and enable increased responsiveness to US Budget dynamics.

“So, the team came together and figured out the best and most innovative approach to deal with unplanned requirements, so no matter what comes, we are prepared and able to handle it.”

In April, the US Marine Corps (USMC) conducted its maiden operational flight of an MQ-9A Reaper UAS in the Middle East.