Air Force abruptly ends purchases of MQ-9 Reaper drones
The MQ-9 Reaper is no longer the drone de jour, and manufacturer General Atomics is rather surprised at how quickly the US Air Force canceled orders.
Chris Pehrson, General Atomics’ vice president of strategic development, told Air Force Magazine he thought the USAF would begin phasing the Reaper out over three to five years.
Instead, the Air Force has determined they would stop buying the drones by the end of the year, securing only 24 Reapers by 2021.
In response to direction in the 2018 National Defense Strategy, which directs the services to accept near-term risk in exchange for long-term capability enhancements, the Air Force is shifting its investment towards improved readiness and increased lethality for operations against near-peer adversaries,” service spokesman Capt. Jake Bailey said on Wednesday.
While the Reaper is an impressive drone for counter-insurgency (COIN) operations, it simply lacks the capability to fight threats such as China or Russia- and the Pentagon is looking at preparing for the next war rather than the last.
This causes uncertainty for General Atomics.
“The abrupt shutdown of the production line without a transition plan does jeopardize the [intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance] enterprise,” Pehrson said. “You’ll see impact eventually, when combat lines have to be reduced or…the assets aren’t there for training.”
That said, the company is preparing for the worst while simultaneously trying to ensure the USAF gets the parts they need- but no promises can be made.
“We’re actually going out about 22 months ahead of delivery and procuring the long-lead item parts, … whether it’s [satellite communication] equipment or engines,…to negotiate the best prices and get the best deals for the government,” Pehrson said. “Having the rug pulled out from under your feet at the last minute kind of disrupts all your supply chain investments that you’re making.”
To make matters worse, the company will probably have to impact its employees as the orders dry up.
“If they stop production today, say, that’s going to have an immediate impact on … the composite manufacturing team, but as time moves on, that impact is going to ripple throughout the whole labor force,” Pehrson said. “We’ll have unemployment or a layoff situation in certain skill sets if we don’t find a way to fill this decreased demand immediately with some other new product or new capability.”
GA makes several UAVs, including the Gray Eagle drone.
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