Washington has formally offered the MQ-9 Predator B (Reaper) Medium Altitude Long Endurance (MALE) unmanned aerial system (UAS) to two additional European air forces. At present the air forces in Germany, Italy, Spain, France and the UK are expected to procure MALE UAVs, aiming at initial operating capability by 2010 – 2012. The UK, Germany, and Italy are currently considering the Predator B. Only a year ago the market was widely open for the American Reaper. The RAF is already operating two of these aircraft; the third has been crashed in Afghanistan in April this year; Germany, Netherlands, Italy and Spain were keen to gain access to the exciting unmanned fighting drone.
One year later, the situation is much more complex. New competition has evolved within Europe. EADS officially launched an ambitious development program for a multi-role UAV system that could directly compete with the US MALE drone. Italy is also proceeding with the Sky-B drone which could assume some of the roles anticipated for the Predator B. The UK has launched the locally developed Mantis UAV, currently in development under an MOD-BAE Systems Advanced Concept Technology Demonstrator (ACTD) program. For the near term, major European companies in Germany, France and Spain have allied with Israel’s IAI to promote the Israeli Heron TP platform as a near-term solution.
In two separate announcements released earlier this week by the US Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA), the Pentagon is offering Germany five MQ-9 Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, four ground control stations, various logistics and support services and one year of support, at a total value of $205 million. The total value, if all options are exercised, could be as high as $205 million. The Pentagon has also offered Italy four MQ-9 Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Aircraft supported by three Mobile Ground Control Stations, and five years of maintenance support, for $330 million. Apparently, the higher value of the Italian package reflects the high system’s maintenance and support cost. For comparison, the UK received its two MQ-9s for merely $77 million, but that package did not include maintenance and support package at all since the aircraft are being flown under the US 42nd UAS attack squadron in Afghanistan. Both German and Italian packages also include synthetic aperture radar (SAR) and electro-optical payloads (Raytheon’s MTS-B and General Atomics Lynx II are considered standard on the Predator B).
The impressive combat reputation gained by Predator B in Afghanistan has not helped much to promote the system to the German public. The sensitive issue of deploying military forces on international missions was aggravate by the notion that the Predator B can be employed as an unmanned combat aircraft, not only a reconnaissance and intelligence collecting platform. The Defense Ministry (Bundeswehr) in Berlin denied any hints that Germany could be interested in a dual role Reaper “There are no plans to purchase a fighter drone for the Bundeswehr” a spokesman for the Defense Ministry stated.