Spain on Feb. 17 officially chose the General Atomics Predator B, designated the MQ-9 Reaper by the U.S. Air Force, to perform airborne surveillance and reconnaissance missions.
The $243 million foreign military sales (FMS) contract was approved by the State Department last year and includes the delivery of four MQ-9 Block 5 unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), 20 embedded global positioning system/inertial guidance units, two mobile ground control stations(GCS) , five multi-spectral targeting systems and five Block 20A Lynx synthetic aperture radars.
The Spanish Air Force intends to use the MQ-9s for homeland security, peacekeeping, peace enforcement, counterinsurgency, and counterterrorism operations, according to the State Department, which approves FMS deals on behalf of the U.S. government. The MQ-9 was chosen over the IAI Heron, primarily because the Predator is compatible with other NATO members.
“Commonality of ISR capabilities increases interoperability between U.S. and Spanish forces and provides a common interface with other MQ-9 NATO operators, including the United Kingdom, France, and Italy,” the State Department said in a statement.
While Spain’s MQ-9s will initially be unarmed, it is expected to weaponize the aircraft, though the country’s immediate concern is establishing an intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capability. Delivery of the first two aircraft and one GCS is scheduled for 2017. The second delivery, which will allow for initial operational capability (IOC), will follow in 2018 before full operational capability in 2020.
Predator B is operational with the U.S., U.K., French and Italian air forces. At least 245 Predator B aircraft have amassed more than one million flight hours since first flight in 2001.
“GA-ASI is proud to partner with the Spanish Armed Forces to offer our operationally proven Predator B RPA to fulfill Spain’s emerging multi-mission requirements,” GA chief executive Linden Blue said in a prepared statement. “We also look forward to working with teammate SENER, a leading engineering company, and developing collaborative partnerships with other Spanish companies to help ensure the long-term success of the program.”
General Atomics has partnered with Spanish engineering firm SENER in the effort. SENER will perform sustainment and support of the MQ-9 to the Spanish armed forces. It also will provide data collection and dissemination services to the Spanish government.
Andrés Sendagorta, vice president of SENER, said the company “is delighted to make all its capabilities available to the Spanish Armed Forces in order to achieve the best integration of the new system in Spain. The MQ-9 is broadly considered to be the best system in its range to which SENER has been providing keen backing for years. Reaper will contribute significantly to strengthen our country’s Defense and Security system and will provide increased protection to our forces.”