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US approves MQ-9B armed UAS sale to UAE

Photo: General Atomics

The US State Department has approved the potential sale of 18 MQ-9B unmanned aerial systems (UAS) to the United Arab Emirates in what would be the first sale of armed drones to a country in the Middle East.

The approval is yet to be officially confirmed by the Defense Security Cooperation Agency, but a Reuters report says the deal could be worth up to $2.9 billion. Should the sale go through, the drones could be delivered as early as 2024.

Reports from late October said the US was also willing to sell the F-35 fifth-generation aircraft to UAE.

Reuters further said in its report that UAE was also interested in the EA-18G Growler electronic warfare aircraft, which are currently operated by the US and Australia.

US armed drone sales under new policy

UAE is the first country to be approved for the purchase of an armed UAS capability under a new US policy that allows for more sales of drones to international partners. The policy change was announced by the US State Department in July this year.

In addition to UAE, Taiwan is also one of the potential customers for the MQ-9B, with the only distinction being that the UAS for Taiwan would be delivered as “weapons ready” and not armed.

The MQ-9B is the latest variant of the MQ-9 series RPAS currently operated by the United States, United Kingdom, Italy, France, and soon Spain, the Netherlands and Belgium. With a wingspan of 24 meters and an endurance of over 40 hours, the aircraft can support over-the-horizon long-endurance, medium-altitude intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) missions.

The MQ-9Bs that would be delivered to UAE would incorporate maritime radar, possibly pointing to the SeaGuardian version of the UAS. According to General Atomics, the systems manufacturer, the SeaGuardian is capable of supporting anti-surface and anti-submarine warfare, in addition to search and rescue and law enforcement missions.