The MQ-9 Reaper--a General Atomics-built drone that has been used extensively over the past decade for military strikes against insurgents across the Middle East and Africa --may soon be a permanent fixture in the Marine Corps' inventory.
In President Donald Trump's fiscal year 2020 budget proposal, the Marine Corps requested three systems, with an additional three planned for fiscal year 2021. The service asked for $ 117 million to purchase the first three systems, according to a Marine Corps spokesperson.
Rear Adm. Randy Crites, deputy assistant secretary of the Navy for budget, said the platforms fulfill an urgent operational need for the service.
"We intend to transition this to a program of record once we complete the program validation process," he said during a briefing with reporters at the Pentagon.
Lt. Gen. Steven R. Rudder, deputy commandant of the Marine Corps for aviation, said the service currently uses contractor-owned, contractor-operated MQ-9s.
"The purchase that we have in this year's budget allows us to buy these systems that we're already operating," he said during an April hearing of the House Armed Services subcommittee on tactical and land forces.
The move will allow the Marines to install certain weapons and conduct missions that they cannot currently execute under the existing contracting mechanism, he added.
Capt. Christopher Harrison, a spokesperson for the Marine Corps, said the service has been operating the Reaper under the contractor-owned, contractor-operated agreement for two years. It has been used for multiple types of missions.
"The MQ-9 Reaper provides increased lethality to the Marine Air-Ground Task Force by providing persistent intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance and strike capability, which the Marine Corps has not previously possessed in an unmanned system," he said.
Harrison noted that the service has also previously experimented with MQ-9s during its weapons and tactical instructor courses in Yuma, Arizona.
Bryan Clark, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, a Washington, D.C-based think tank, said the platforms will be a key enabler for electronic warfare missions in the future.
The service currently has plans to integrate Intrepid Tiger II program pods onto the MQ-9s, he said. Intrepid Tiger II is a family of communications and electronic warfare payloads that provide airborne electronic attack and electronic warfare support for Marine aviation...