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US Marines receive first Reaper under new joint contract with US Air Force

The utilization of the MQ-9 Reaper equips Marines with an extended-range intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance capability, thereby supporting expeditionary advanced base operations, operations in contested littoral environments, and enhancing maritime domain awareness. Photo: US Marine Corps

Under a joint contract with the US Air Force, the Marine Corps has received the inaugural MQ-9 Reaper, with seven more to come.

The US Navy granted a $135.8 million contract to General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc. for the delivery of eight MQ-9A Extended Range (ER) Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) to the Marine Corps, which were scheduled for delivery in late 2023.

PMA-266, the program office responsible for the multi-mission tactical UAS in the Marine Corps, leveraged the Air Force’s Agile Reaper Enterprise Solution (ARES) to grant the contract. ARES, a fixed five-year indefinite-delivery/indefinite-quantity contract, facilitated the procurement process.

By collaborating with the Air Force, the Marine Corps established the Medium Altitude Long Endurance segment of the Marine Air Ground Task Force (MAGTF) Uncrewed Expeditionary (MUX) family of systems, a crucial element of the Marine Corps Force Design 2030.

Since its establishment in 2018, PMA-266 has effectively utilized Air Force investments and contracting solutions to acquire the MQ-9, resulting in accelerated fielding timelines. Through the customization and streamlining of the conventional acquisition strategy, the MQ-9 program commenced after Milestone C, eliminating the need for three to five years of traditional acquisition endeavors.

“The US Air Force has been a great partner and a major enabler in the Marine Corps’ pursuit to acquire group 5 UAS,” said Lt. Col Leigh Irwin, Marine Corps MQ-9 program director for PMA-266. “Group 5 UAS will give the Marines the ability to conduct ISR [intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance] and network extensions in support of the MAGTF in support of stand-in forces and the Joint Force.”

According to her statement, the Marine Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Squadron (VMU)-1 based in Yuma will employ this aircraft for operational missions in foreign territories.

In the Indo-Pacific Command area of responsibility, the MQ-9 Reaper is addressing the urgent requirement for a Group 5 UAS capable of long-range, long-endurance operations, conducting crucial ISR (Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance) missions, and facilitating data relay capabilities.

The Marine Corps currently possesses two operational MQ-9A aircraft, deployed to facilitate diverse operations including coastal and border surveillance, weapons tracking, embargo enforcement, humanitarian assistance and disaster relief efforts, peacekeeping missions, as well as counter-narcotic operations.