The Navy recently awarded a $135.8 million contract to General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc. (GA-ASI) for eight MQ-9A Extended Range (ER) Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) that are scheduled for delivery to the Marine Corps in late 2023.
MQ-9A ER will provide a large scale, long-range intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capability for the Marine Expeditionary Force. It is designed to extend the aircraft’s endurance to more than 30 hours and equipped with triple redundant avionics architecture.
As part of the Marine Corps Force Design 2030 efforts, the Marines plan to transition Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Squadron (VMU) 3 located at Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii to MQ-9A operations. VMU-3 will utilize the MQ-9A ERs to support training for the Marine Littoral Regiment.
The Multi-Mission Tactical UAS program office (PMA-266), who manages the Marines MQ-9 program, used the Air Force’s Agile Reaper Enterprise Solution (ARES) to award the contract. ARES is a five-year fixed Indefinite Delivery/Indefinite Quantity (ID/IQ) contract.
«Our team has ensured the development and fielding of a new combat capability, critical for the Marine Corps Force Design (FD) 2030 vision, at an exceptional speed», said Captain Dennis Monagle, PMA-266 program manager.
Since the program’s inception in 2018, PMA-266 has leveraged Air Force investments and contracting solutions to procure MQ-9, ultimately accelerating the fielding time. By tailoring and streamlining the typical acquisition strategy, the MQ-9 program commenced post-Milestone C, eliminating three to five years of traditional acquisition efforts.
«We closely aligned with the USAF MQ-9 System Program Office (SPO), National Guard Bureau, Marine Corps stakeholders, as well as our vendor teams in order to develop and integrate as quickly as possible», Monagle said.
The first two MQ-9 aircraft were delivered in 2019 to Marine Unmanned Air Vehicle Squadron (VMU) 1 and since then have flown over 15,000 operational flight hours. The program continues to develop new, unique payloads and capabilities to meet future requirements for FD 2030. These payloads include the Detect and Avoid System (DAAS), a Proliferated Low Earth Orbit (PLEO) satellite system, an airborne network extension payload (Sky Tower), and an electronic warfare payload.
The MQ-9A and associated payloads will provide the Marines with organic network extension and Intelligence, Surveillance, Reconnaissance, and Targeting (ISR-T) in support of expeditionary advanced based operations, littoral operations in contested environments, and maritime domain awareness.