The Netherlands will buy a handful of MQ-9 Reaper drones made by San Diego-based General Atomics, according to news reports.
The head of the country's ministry of defense, Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert, wrote to parliament on Nov. 21 of plans to purchase four of the medium-altitude unmanned aircraft and associated ground stations for military and civilian missions, according to an Aviation Week article.
The drones will begin surveillance flights in 2016 and be fully operational the following year, with no current plans to arm the aircraft, according to the report.
The deal will take place under the U.S. Defense Department's Foreign Military Sales program. In such a sale, the U.S. buys weapons or equipment on behalf of a foreign government. Countries approved to participate in the program may obtain military hardware or services by using their own funding or money provided through U.S.-sponsored assistance programs.
Information about the cost of the transaction or where the aircraft will be based weren't immediately available.
The U.S. Air Force and Special Operations Command plans to spend $506.7 million to buy a dozen Reapers and ground control stations in fiscal 2014, or about $42 million per aircraft and station, as part of a plan to fly 65 combat air patrols a day, according to budget documents. The number of aircraft fell by half from the previous year.
Like other defense contractors, General Atomics is pushing for more international sales amid the downturn in U.S. defense spending. The closely held company this week reported it may have to lay off a quarter of its production staff of about 1,400 employees if it doesn't receive more orders from the U.S. government or foreign customers, according to a Reuters article.
The company earlier this year said it will sell an unarmed export version of its MQ-1 Predator drone, known as the Predator XP, to the United Arab Emirates and other countries in the Middle East.
The Predator XP is equipped with radar and sensors to offer wide-area surveillance but not weapon systems such as laser-guided bombs or air-to-ground missiles, giving it a different type of missile classification that allows it to be sold directly to foreign customers and outside of the federal government’s foreign military sale process.
"It opens up a whole range of new markets that had been previously closed," Christopher Ames, director of international strategic development for General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc., said in an interview with Military.com in June at the Paris Air Show. “Allies and coalition members were saying, ‘When do we get our Predator?’”
The Netherlands already operates the low-altitude drones RQ-11 Raven made by AeroVironment Inc., based in Monrovia, Calif., and the ScanEagle made by Chicago-based Boeing's Insitu unit.