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Netherlands arming its Reaper drones

MQ-9 Reaper UAS
Photo: Dutch MoD

The Netherlands plans to arm its MQ-9A Reaper UAVs, after originally acquiring them solely as unarmed intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance assets.

Netherlands’ Minister of Defense, Christophe van der Maat, announced the procurement of ammunition to equip the MQ-9 Reaper drones, fulfilling the 2022 Defense Memorandum’s requisition for enhanced unmanned reconnaissance capabilities.

The upcoming aircraft set to arrive in 2026 from General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc. do not require any alterations for armament as they are already equipped for it from a technical standpoint. However, the existing four MQ-9s will need to undergo modifications.

Additionally, the ammunition being utilized is not new in terms of functionality. It consists of laser-guided GBU bombs, which are already employed by the F-35, and air-to-surface Hellfire missiles utilized by the Apache helicopters. Nonetheless, when compared to the ammunition used by combat helicopters, this represents a more recent variation, the defense ministry said.

The acquisition process is facilitated by the US government through the Foreign Military Sales (FMS) program. Both the Netherlands and France participate in this program and follow the same configuration for their procurement. The project holds an estimated value ranging from €100 to €250 million.

“When the Ministry of Defense started the project for the MQ-9 Reaper in 2011, there was no need to arm the aircraft,” stated the Ministry of Defense (MoD). “However, the threat picture has changed considerably since then. The aircraft must now be able to protect the safety of its own troops.”

The MoD has set a target to acquire and stock the initial ammunition for operational use by 2025, allowing for an initial weapons capability. The complete operational capability is planned to be achieved by 2028.