NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center partnered with General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc, (GA-ASI) to demonstrate technologies that would expand the capabilities of remotely operated, uninhabited aircraft to perform high-altitude earth science missions. To accomplish the task, GA-ASI developed an enlarged version of its Predator reconnaissance aircraft, called the Predator B®, including an extended-wingspan Altair version for NASA, to meet these requirements.
GA-ASI's task under NASA's Environmental Research Aircraft and Sensor Technology (ERAST) Joint Sponsored Research Agreement called for the San Diego firm to develop and demonstrate technical performance and operational capabilities that would meet the needs of the science community. As joint partners in the project, which covered flight validation, as well as development of the aircraft, NASA's Office of Aerospace Technology was investing approximately $10 million, while GA-ASI was contributing additional funds, with about $8 million earmarked for the Altair project.
The first Predator B prototype, aircraft 001, logged its first flight on 2 February 2001 from the General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc. (GA-ASI) flight operations facility at El Mirage, California. After an initial series of airworthiness test flights and downtime for various software and systems upgrades, the Predator B flew a second series of flight tests in mid-summer, 2001, aimed at expansion of its flight envelope and validation of its autonomous flight capabilities. The prototype reached a maximum sustainable altitude of 48,300 feet during one of those flights over the Edwards Air Force Base test range.
The US Air Force proposed the MQ-9 system in response to the Department of Defense request for Global War on Terrorism initiatives. It was larger and more powerful than the MQ-1 Predator and was designed to go after time-sensitive targets with persistence and precision, and destroy or disable those targets. The "M" is the Department of Defense designation for multi-role and "Q" means unmanned aircraft system. The "9" refers to the series of purpose-built remotely piloted aircraft systems. In June 2003, the Air Combat Command Commander approved the MQ-9 Concept of Operations.
The first production MQ-9A had been built by late 2002, at which time three more were under construction, with 3-4 expected to follow in 2003 and full production of 9-15/year to be reached in 2004. Another version of the Predator B, with a 20-ft wing extension, called the Altair, started flying in late 2002.
The fifth Predator B was completed in June 2004 and a sharp increase in output was expected afterwards. The configuration has a length of 36 feet and a wingspan of 68 feet. It was not reported whether or not the extended wingspan version would enter into service with the USAF, though the aircraft was to be used by NASA, who had supported its development.
On 14 September 2006 the Air Force chief of staff announced "Reaper" had been chosen as the name for the MQ-9 unmanned aerial vehicle previously referred to as Predator B. The Air Force was the Department of Defense's executive agent for designating and naming military aerospace vehicles. In the case of the Reaper, Gen. T. Michael Moseley made the final decision after an extensive nomination and review process, coordinated with the other services. "The name Reaper is one of the suggestions that came from our Airmen in the field. It's fitting as it captures the lethal nature of this new weapon system," General Moseley said.
On 30 October 2006 CIA-guided Predator drone fired missiles at houses in the village of Damadola in the Bajaur tribal area, about 7km (4.5 miles) from the Afghan border, aiming to kill the deputy leader of al-Qaeda Ayman al Zawahiri. He was not in a Pakistani village near the Afghan border, which was hit in an apparent missile attack in which as many as 18 people were killed.
By this time, the Los Angeles Times reported that " ...at least 19 occasions since Sept. 11 on which Predators successfully fired Hellfire missiles on terrorist suspects overseas, including 10 in Iraq in one month last year. The Predator strikes have killed at least four senior Al Qaeda leaders, but also many civilians ..."
By March 2007 the MQ-9 Reaper had logged over 6,500 flight hours to date, and the team was continuing to successfully address the program's development, demonstration and production aspects while simultaneously advancing Reaper interim combat capability and early fielding.
The first MQ-9 Reaper touched down at Creech Air Force Base, Nevada on 13 March 2007. Its arrival, which occurred nearly one year earlier than projected, signaled another effort by Aeronautical Systems Center to meet the warfighter's needs.
The MQ-9 was in continuing development and would field capability through incremental upgrades. The baseline development included both a risk reduction phase, FY04 & FY05 Quick Reaction/Interim Combat Capabilities (ICC), and a System Development & Demonstration (SDD) phase. Risk reduction started in FY03 and includes system design, drawings, specifications, and initial standardized (MIL-STD-1760) advanced weapons data bus efforts.
On 24 November 2003, the Aeronautical Systems Center (ASC), Reconnaissance System Program Office (ASC/RAK) announced plans to award a contract [F33657-02-G-4035 0023] on a sole source basis to General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc., to provide System Development and Demonstration for the MQ-9A aircraft. This notice of intent was not a request for competitive proposals. General Atomics ASI was the sole designer, developer, and manufacturer of the Predator system, and was the only firm that possesses the necessary knowledge, experience and technical data required to perform these efforts.
On 19 November 2004, the Aeronautical Systems Center (ASC), Reconnaissance System Program Office (ASC/RAK) announced intent to award a contract [F33657-02-G-4035 0039] on a sole source basis to General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc., to provide four MQ-9 aircraft, with an option for one additional aircraft. General Atomics ASI was the sole designer, developer, and manufacturer of the Predator system, and was the only firm that possesses the necessary knowledge, experience and technical data required to perform these efforts. The government did not own the data rights for the system. Therefore, to avoid duplication costs, the government intended to award the effort pursuant to the authority of 10 U.S.C. 2304 (c) (1) as implemented by FAR 6.302-1. The proposed contract action, F33657-02-G-4035 0039, had a period of performance of 15 months.
The SDD effort began in FY05 and included developing and testing the MQ-9's baseline capability and preliminary technical orders.
On 11 April 2005, the Aeronautical Systems Center (ASC), Reconnaissance Systems Wing (RSW) announced intent to exercise an existing contract option [F33657-02-G-4035 002803] on a sole source basis to General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc., to provide one MQ-9A aircraft. This option would be exercised on behalf of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.
On 13 January 2006, Aeronautical Systems Center (ASC), Predator System Program Office (PSS) announced that it intended to award a Predator B, MQ-9 Full Rate Production contract [FA8620-05-G-3028 0007] on a sole source basis to General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc. for FY06 and FY07 MQ-9 Production requirements. This notice of intent was not a request for competitive proposals. The FY06/FY07 MQ-9 Production effort would include a quantity of two (2) MQ-9 aircraft with options for up to twenty-two (22) additional aircraft. This effort also included aircraft and propeller shipping containers, production engineering, support equipment, spares, and a 30 day pack up kit.
As of September 2006 the Air Force had seven MQ-9 Reapers in inventory, with a full-rate production decision expected in 2009.
On 25 January 2006, it was announced that the U.S. Air Force, Air Combat Command intended to solicit sole source [FA4890-06-R-0005] with General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc., 16761 Via Del Campo Court, San Diego, CA 92127-1713 to provide MQ-9 Predator operation and maintenance services. The contractor would provide all personnel, supervision, and services necessary to perform Predator organizational maintenance for: aircraft, ground control stations, ground data terminals, and Predator primary satellite links. The contractor would also be responsible for launch and recovery elements including contract aircrew at forward deployed locations. The contractor would be responsible for program and maintenance management and support functions following the basic requirements of AFI 21-101, including maintaining aircraft/equipment in accordance with approved AF technical data, maintaining qualifications/certifications for weapons loading, parts/supplies ordering and accountability, and developing flying and maintenance schedules. The contractor would provide munitions management in accordance with AFI 21-201. The mission of the Predator is to be a multi-role unmanned aerial system capable of reconnaissance, surveillance, target acquisition, killer scout, forward air controller, and combat search and rescue support missions. The principle place of performance is Creech Air Force Base, Nevada as well as at deployed worldwide locations.
On 9 March 2007 it was announced that the Aeronautical Systems Center (ASC), Aeronautical Systems Group (658 AESG) intended to award a Predator MQ-1 and Reaper MQ-9 ASIP Integration contract [FA8620-05-G-3028 0028] on a sole source basis to General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc. for the analysis, system requirements definition, Interface Control Documents (ICDs), and preliminary integration design to integrate the Airborne Signal Intelligence Payload (ASIP) program sensor on MQ-1 and MQ-9 aircraft. In addition, this effort would identify and assess risks as well as identify and assess the impacts to the current MQ-1 and MQ-9 programs. This notice of intent was not a request for competitive proposals. General Atomics ASI was the sole designer, developer, and manufacturer of the Predator and Reaper systems and was the only firm that possesses the necessary knowledge, experience and technical data required to perform these efforts.
The Aeronautical Systems Center, 659 Aeronautical Systems Squadron intends to award a Airborne Signals Intelligence Payload (ASIP) 1C/2C contract [FA8620-07-C-4020 ] on a sole source basis to Northrop Grumman Space and Mission Systems Corp. for the rapid development, integration and testing of a fieldable, scaled, communication intelligence system based on the ASIP architecture for the MQ-1, MQ-1X, MQ-9 and RQ-4B (Block 30 I) Unmanned Aerial Systems. The sensor portion of the system was intended to collect and process selected signals that are classified up to and including Top Secret/SCI. Specific requirements are listed in Section 3 of the ASIP 1C/2C Systems Requirement Document that was classified Secret/SI (available for review at Wright Patterson AFB, Ohio).
The Air Force Distributed Common Ground System would command and control the ASIP 1C/2C sensors using interface standards established on the baseline ASIP program. Northrop Grumman Space and Mission Systems Corp. was the sole designer, developer, and manufacturer of the ASIP family of sensors and was the only firm that possesses the necessary knowledge, experience and technical data required to build these sensors in a timely and cost effective manner. The anticipated design was a scaled version of the existing ASIP sensor and requires minimal dollars and time to develop. Planned spiral upgrade and logistical support funding was insufficient to upgrade/maintain unique solutions for these platforms and the existing ASIP systems so a single architecture was required. Developing a unique solution for these platforms would result in duplication of efforts.
The Reaper entered system development in February 2004 with three of its four critical technologies mature according to a March 2007 report by the Government Accountability Office. The fourth technology experienced several delays, but began weapons release testing in December 2006. Once mature, the technology would enable the program to perform its primary mission-to destroy enemy targets. The Air Force completed over 80 percent of the design drawings, a measure of design stability, for the first increment and projected that design stability would be achieved by the 2007 critical design review. However, the program had already begun producing aircraft for an interim combat capability and planned to produce additional preproduction aircraft with improved interim capabilities without demonstrating production maturity. Initial operational testing was not scheduled to begin until 2008. At that point, nearly one-third of the quantity would be on contract or delivered.
Three of the Reaper's four critical technologies, the synthetic aperture radar, the multispectral targeting system, and the air vehicle, are fully mature at the time of the 2007 GAO report. The fourth technology, the stores management subsystem, was designed to integrate and store data necessary to launch munitions. This subsystem had experienced several delays. It was initially expected to be mature in 2004. The latest delay was a result of incorporating the HELLFIRE missile into the subsystem. It began weapons release testing in December 2006. Subsequent increments may require other new technologies.
The program did not plan to use statistical process controls to ensure product quality. Instead, it planned to use other quality control measures such as scrap, rework, and repair to track product quality. Production work on the Predator and Reaper and the Army's Warrior had greatly increased the contractor's business base and workforce requirements. OSD and Air Force officials had raised concerns about the contractor's production capacity to meet this expanded business base.
The Reaper program had undergone two significant changes over the past year. First, the requirement to add the Hellfire missile delayed the delivery of the interim combat capability aircraft by about 7 months. Second, the Air Force decided to provide an early fielding capability to the user. While these aircraft were expected to be more capable than the interim combat aircraft, they would not have the full capability.
According to program officials, the hardware in the early fielding aircraft would meet most of the required capabilities. Subsequent aircraft would have upgrades to the radar and weapons as well as further software developments and technical orders.
The Reaper's acquisition approach increases the risks of concurrent design and production. The Air Force would have already contracted for one-third of the total production aircraft quantity before it completes initial operational testing. Changes stemming from the test program would further cause a perturbation to the aircraft's cost, schedule, and manufacturing plan.
The Reaper's critical design review was delayed until June 2008, nearly 3 years later than originally planned. By that point, the program office estimated that 94 percent of the design drawings, a measure of design stability, would be complete. Despite the design review delay, the program continued to produce and field aircraft. The lack of demonstrated design and production maturity represented a significant risk to the program. In addition, initial operational testing was not scheduled to be completed until the third quarter of FY08, when about 45 percent of the aircraft quantity would have already been placed on contract.
The design review was initially planned for September 2005, but had slipped repeatedly since the program began development, and as of March 2008 was scheduled for June of that year, 4 months after the production decision. According to program officials, the delays were caused by the user's requirement for early fielding of the aircraft. Program officials acknowledge that additional drawings would be needed for subsequent aircraft increments.
In its 2008 assessment, the GAO outlined a program that had followed a nontraditional acquisition path highlighted by changing requirements. Between 2007 and 2008, total program quantities increased from 63 to 81 aircraft and the FY07 purchase quantity increased from 2 to 12 aircraft. Between the start of development and March 2008, program unit costs increased by over 30 percent, primarily due to a user requirement for an early operational capability that included the HELLFIRE missile and a digital electronic engine control. These changes also increased the weight of the aircraft, requiring stronger landing gear, fuselage, and control surfaces. Further requirements changes resulted in an even more robust early fielding configuration. Subsequent aircraft would have upgrades to the radar and weapons as well as further software developments. The production of these aircraft before the critical design review and operational testing added significant risk to the program according to the GAO. As of March 2008, the Air Force had taken delivery of 14 aircraft and planned to make a production decision prior to the system critical design review. By the time the program completed initial operational testing, the Air Force would have already contracted for about 45 percent of the total production aircraft quantity. Changes stemming from the test program would further disrupt the aircraft's cost, schedule, and manufacturing plan.
The USAF responded to the GAO's 2008 assessment, stating that it was forced into a nontraditional acquisition path to rapidly meet the demands of the Global War on Terrorism. While this path had introduced some inefficiencies, the Air Force stated that it had delivered effective combat capability well ahead of what would have been achievable using a traditional acquisition path. It also noted that the majority of the production to date had been the result of congressional direction and funding provided in excess of DoD requests. Program officials maintained there was manageable and accepted risk with production taking place before critical design review and operational testing. The Reaper underwent an integrated system exercise in September 2007 to operationally assess its readiness for early deployment. A second exercise would assess its readiness for initial operational testing.
The GAO responded noting that the review of DoD weapon systems confirmed that producing the system before the completion of the design review and operational testing added significant cost risk to the program. Further, the first integrated system exercise was a limited developmental test and not a replacement for rigorous operational testing.
In the the Fiscal 2017 budget request, the Air Force planned to phase out the Predator completely by the end of 2018, focusing on buying new Reapers to replace them, as well as buying the extended-range upgrade kit for nearly the entire fleet of MQ-9s. Only 38 Reapers carrying other modifications won’t be given the ER upgrade, which consists of fuel tanks, extended “wet” wings, and extended tail control surfaces. The upgrade increases the Reaper’s endurance from 27 hours to as long as 42 hours when not carrying external stores.
On August 15, 2016 General Atomics - Aeronautical Systems Inc., Poway, California, was awarded a $370,932,862 firm fixed-price, incentive firm contract for fiscal 2015 MQ-9 Reaper production. Contractor will provide 30 aircraft for fiscal 2015 MQ-9 Reaper production configuration aircraft. Work will be performed at Poway, California, and is expected to be completed by May 31, 2019. This award is the result of a sole-source acquisition. Fiscal 2014 and 2015 aircraft procurement funds in the amount of $$370,932,862 are being obligated at the time of the award. The Air Force Life Cycle Management Center, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, is the contracting activity (FA8620-15-G-4040 0007).
n an effort to field MQ-9 Reapers faster and meet an increasing operational demand for the aircraft, the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center’s MQ-9 Program Office awarded a $7.4 billion ceiling Agile Reaper Enterprise Solution (ARES) contract to General Atomics 17 September 2020. The MQ-9 is an unmanned aircraft with intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance, and strike capabilities, and is one of the most in demand weapons systems in the U.S. Air Force.
ARES, a five year fixed indefinite delivery/indefinite quantity contract, developed by the MQ-9 Program Office, will stabilize costs, allow for the procurement of up to 36 aircraft per year in the same appropriation year, and reduce the time it takes to deliver the aircraft to operational units by approximately 35%. ARES is flexible and it has streamlined the traditional contract award process. ARES has a pre-negotiated $3.3 billion price-quantity-curve. This curve allows the Air Force and foreign military sales partners to unilaterally order between 4-36 aircraft in a single year.
Foreign Military Sales partners will be allowed to procure the Dash 21 variant, which is the NATO exportable version of the MQ-9A. The contract contains pre-priced Mobile Ground Control Stations, Ground Data Terminal, spares, and support equipment. This pre-priced contract allows the MQ-9 Program Office to go through the complete contract clearance process only once.
“Prior to ARES, the standard contract award timeline was roughly 380 days,” said Alicia Morales, aircraft production manager with the Medium Altitude Unmanned Aerial System (MAUAS) Program Office, who was instrumental in developing ARES. “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.”
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