Farnborough Air Show

U.S. Marine Corps Begins Major MQ-9A UAS Procurement

 - July 18, 2022, 4:45 AM
One of VMU-1’s MQ-9As appears at its Yuma base. The first two MQ-9As were flown under a contractor-owned/contractor-operated arrangement with General Atomics, but are now government-owned. (Photo: U.S. Marine Corps)

General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc. (GA-ASI, Stand 2140) has received a contract to supply eight MQ-9A Extended Range uncrewed aircraft systems to the U.S. Marine Corps, part of the Agile Reaper Enterprise Solution indefinite delivery/indefinite quantity contract signed on May 27. Further anticipated contracts will cover the supply of ground control systems and support equipment.

The Marines operated the MQ-9A since September 2018, when a pair of leased remotely-piloted aircraft (RPA) and ground control stations began operating in Afghanistan under a contractor-owned/contractor-operated arrangement with General Atomics. They flew more than 12,000 hours in the theater before returning to the U.S. for operations with VMU-1 at MCAS Yuma, Arizona. Their activities proved key in informing the creation of the Marine Air Ground Task Force Unmanned Expeditionary (MUX) effort, which is now a program of record. On Aug. 30, 2021, ownership of the MQ-9As went to the Marines. Although they continued to be contractor-operated, the aim of MUX is for the Marines themselves to operate the RPAs.

The eight new RPAs will be flown by VMU-3 at MCAS Kaneohe Bay in Hawaii, from where they will support the Marine Littoral Regiment and wider U.S. Indo-Pacific Command activities. They are due to achieve an early operational capability next year, with initial operating capability to be achieved in 2025. The MUX program has stated a requirement for 16 MQ-9A(ER)s.

The Extended Range version of the MQ-9A features field-retrofittable reinforced landing gear for higher-weight operations, permitting the carriage of underwing fuel tanks that raise endurance to more than 30 hours while increasing operational flexibility. In standard fit, the MQ-9A(ER) comes equipped with full-motion video and synthetic aperture radar/moving target indication/maritime mode radar.