USAF Creates Contract Vehicle For Future MQ-9 Orders

Credit: GA-ASI

As General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc. enters a period of uncertainty over future MQ-9 orders, the U.S. Air Force has created a streamlined process to reduce by about one-third a normally three-year cycle between an acquisition decision and first delivery of an unmanned aircraft system (UAS).

The Agile Reaper Enterprise Solution (ARES) contract vehicle awarded on Sept. 17 does not include any new orders, but sets prenegotiated pricing for any orders between four and 36 MA-9s annually over the next five years, the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center said. 

A standard timeline for awarding an MQ-9 contract after an acquisition decision was 380 days, or 12 1/2 months, said Alicia Morales, the aircraft production manager for the Air Forces Medium Altitude UAS program office. 

“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,” Morales said in a statement. 

For the first time in 15 years, the Air Force submitted a budget request to Congress for fiscal 2021 with no funding provided for MQ-9 procurement. Air Force officials hope to avoid spending more on new MQ-9 production, leaving only foreign customers to buy the medium-altitude UAS. 

But some in Congress have pushed back on the Air Force’s plan to halt MQ-9 orders after fiscal 2020. All three committees that have passed spending or authorization bills have added MQ-9s to their version of the fiscal 2021 budget. The Senate Appropriations Committee has no plans to mark up its version of the spending bill until after U.S. national elections on Nov. 3.

By shortening the post-contract award delivery cycle by a year, the ARES contract could prevent a gap in production. The ARES contract also can be used by foreign buyers that accept the prenegotiated pricing terms and quantity limits. 

Steve Trimble

Steve covers military aviation, missiles and space for the Aviation Week Network, based in Washington DC.