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04 March 2015

Dutch MQ-9 REAPER Deal Imminent

After having selected the General Atomics (GA-ASI) MQ-9 REAPER in November 2013, a decision by the Dutch Ministry of Defence (MoD) aimed at formalising procurement is imminent and Dutch parliament is expected to be informed in the next few weeks. The US Defense Security Cooperation Agency issued a press release on 6 February that stated that the State Department has given the green light for a possible Foreign Military Sale to the Netherlands of four MQ-9 Block 5 REAPER air vehicles and up to four Block 30 mobile ground control stations (GCS - with an option for Block 50) although the Dutch only appear to require two GCS. The possible deal also includes six Honeywell TPE331-0T turboprop engines including two spares, two SATCOM earth terminal subsystems, six AN/DAS-1 Multi-Spectral targeting Systems (MTS)-B, and four GA-ASI exportable LYNX SAR/GMTI systems with a maritime wide area search capability. In addition, the Dutch government has requested the possible sale of two aircraft maintenance test stations, 20 Rockwell Collins ARC-210 RT-1939 radio systems, eight KY-1006 common crypto modules, eight Ku-band Link-Airborne Communications Systems, as well as four KIV-77 Mode 4/5 IFF crypto computers, and four AN/APX-119 Mode 4/5 IFF transponders (515 Model), together with 14 Honeywell H-764 Adaptive Configurable Embedded GPS/Inertial Guidance Units (EGI) with Selective Availability Anti-Spoofing (SAASM) modules including two spares.  Also provided are an Initial Spares Package (ISP) and Readiness Spares Package (RSP) to support 3400 flight hours for a three year period.

The Dutch MALE UAV requirement is for a system that is able to conduct around the clock 24/7 surveillance during a six month period with the individual air vehicle having an endurance exceeding 24 hours. Beating other contenders such as the IAI HERON TP, the GA-ASI MQ-9 was selected in no small part due to it being considered the sole military off the shelf MALE UAV that had reached a sufficient level of technological maturity at the time. In addition, the MQ-9 would offer a high degree of interoperabilility with other operators including the US and the UK. The Royal Netherlands Air Force (RNLAF) has in the meantime already sent some personnel to Holloman AFB in the US to be trained on the new system. It remains to be seen when the UAVs will start operating from Leeuwarden AB in the Netherlands where they are planned to be stationed as part of 306 Squadron. This would depend on airspace integration issues that are being looked into by the Dutch MoD with discussions with the two principal actors, the Human Environment and Transport Inspectorate and the Military Aviation Authority now ongoing. However, approximately 30% of the squadron’s future 100 personnel are planned to stay in the US for training in any case.

A funding package of up to €250 million has been earmarked for the project. However, this will initially not be sufficient to fund some of the mission specific sensors it appears. Procurement of the SAR/GMTI systems and COMINT equipment will be deferred until an additional €50-75 million in funding are made available. Destined to provide a wide range of ISR capabilities, including target acquisition and battle damage assessment, the MQ-9 MALE UAS will also be used to support national missions in conjunction with civilian authorities. Envisaged to operate on behalf of the Netherlands coast guard as well, the new system should reach IOC in late 2016 while FOC should be achieved one year later, in late 2017. Although they will not be armed initially, the Dutch MQ-9s could be weaponised at a later stage, this being one of the Dutch requirements.

Once in service, the Dutch military’s single MQ-9 UAS will augment three Insitu SCAN EAGLE tactical UAS and 25 Aerovironment RAVEN mini UAS that are operated by the army. In the near future, the SCAN EAGLE systems are planned to be replaced by five RQ-21 INTEGRATOR UAS, while a new “family of systems” is being envisaged to replace the current fleet of mini UAS. AeroVironment’s latest digital data link (DDL) family of mini UAS is being looked into.

Pieter Bastiaans

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