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UK Plans to Buy $1 Billion Worth of Enhanced Reaper Drones

The British government plans to buy $1 billion worth of enhanced versions of the U.S.-made MQ-9 Reaper drones, according to an announcement.

The Pentagon's Defense Security Cooperation Agency in a release this week on its website announced the State Department supported the proposed sale of as many as 26 of the Certifiable Predator B remotely piloted aircraft made by General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc., based in San Diego. The transaction was previously reported by The Washington Post.

The unmanned system is an enhanced version of the Air Force's MQ-9 Reaper -- which the British military already operates -- and is designed to soar as high as 50,000 feet for more than 40 hours at a time, thanks to new fuel-economy features such as a 79-foot wingspan and winglets.

The drone "will also be used to support the UK's armed forces and coalition forces engaged in current and future peacekeeping, peace-enforcing, counter-insurgent, and counterterrorism operations," the release states.

The Certifiable Predator B meets the air worthiness requirements as defined by NATO's Standardized Agreement, or STANAG, 4671 and similar regulations in the U.K. with new features such as lightning protection, different composite materials and, most importantly, sense-and-avoid technology.

While the release doesn't specify an armament package, the Predator B is designated by the U.S. Air Force as the MQ-9 Reaper, a larger and more lethal drone than the MQ-1 Predator.

While both are considered medium-altitude drones, the Air Force's Reaper has a 66-foot wingspan, 50,000-foot ceiling and can carry a combination of AGM-114 Hellfire missiles, laser-guided GBU-12 Paveway II bombs and GPS-guided GBU-38 Joint Direct Attack Munitions bombs. Meanwhile, the Predator has a 55-foot wingspan, 25,000-foot ceiling and can carry Hellfires.

The British government also plans to buy up to a dozen of the new-and-improved cockpits, called the Advanced Cockpit Ground Control Stations, each of which features a high-definition touch screens, a video game-like controller, and keyboard for chat and other messaging functions.

Operators sit in front of a bank of six 24-inch monitors arranged in two horizontal rows.

The upper monitors provide a 120-degree view of the battlefield using a combination of live video, synthetic images and air traffic information. The wider field of view comes from digital-terrain data fed into the left and right screens complementing the live video in the center screen.

The lower monitors display mission systems, maps including 3-D graphics and a general screen for chat, e-mail and other mission applications. A quick tap of the finger to various boxes on the lower left screen brings up different systems, including the mission check list, command and control pages, and warning system.

The sale also calls for new launch-and-recovery stations, multi-spectral targeting systems, AN/APY-8 Lynx IIe Block 20A synthetic aperture radar and ground moving target indicators, embedded global positioning system/inertial guidance units, among other equipment.

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