USMC looks to buy Reaper UAVs
The USMC wants to begin buying a handful of MQ-9A Reaper UAVs in FY2020 to meet an ‘urgent operational need,’ according to a US Navy Department budget official.
‘We plan to transition this to a programme of record once we complete the programme validation process,’ said R Adm Randy Crites, deputy assistant secretary of the navy for budget, who briefed reporters at the Pentagon on 12 March on the department’s recently unveiled FY2020 budget request.
Budget documents show the USMC intends to buy a total of six Reapers; three in FY2020 and three in FY2021.
Lawmakers have urged the USMC to purchase the Reaper to fill a current capability gap and help prepare the service to develop and operate the future Marine Air Ground Task Force Unmanned Aircraft System Expeditionary.
The Reaper’s existing customers include the British, French, Italian and US air forces, while the Dutch and Spanish militaries have ordered the UAV. Australia plans to select either the MQ-9A or the MQ-9B variant later this year. The UK has ordered the MQ-9B, and Belgium intends to negotiate with the US government to acquire the MQ-9B.
Crites said that acquiring the fixed-wing Reaper would not stop the USMC from pursuing the VTOL MUX, which will perform ISR, strike, airborne escort and cargo resupply. The USMC released an RfI for the emerging MUX effort a year ago.
‘We’re still working on the MUX programme,’ Crites said.
The USMC’s FY2020 budget request contains $21 million for ‘technical concept maturation and experimentation for MUX, ensuring the programme remains on track to provide the [USMC] an operational capability in FY2026,’ the service said in a statement.
‘These efforts will include the development of system architectures and rapid prototyping of critical system components to inform a future MUX programme of record.’
Turning to the USMC’s new CH-53K King Stallion heavy-lift helicopter, which will replace the ageing CH-53E Super Stallion, Crites said the FY2020 budget request includes research and development money to fix technical problems with the aircraft, built by Lockheed Martin’s Sikorsky.
‘We believe we have a way ahead on that programme,’ he told reporters. The budget calls for buying six CH-53Ks in FY2020, down from eight in FY2019. The numbers would be higher in futures years: 12 in FY2021, 19 in FY2022, 18 in FY2023 and 19 in FY2024.
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