The US Navy has awarded a $8.4m contract to three industry partners to develop advanced system for the US Marine Corps’ (USMC) MQ-9 Reaper aircraft.

The three companies include Northrop Grumman, L3Harris Technologies and Global Air Logistics and Training (GALT).

All the companies will work together to develop an Airborne Network Extension (ANE) Skytower II (STII) system for the MQ-9 aircraft.

This contract has been awarded by the Multi-Mission Tactical Unmanned Air System programme office (PMA-266).

It is part of the Other Transaction Agreement (OTA) vehicle, which is used by government to support research and development (R&D) and prototype development.

PMA-266 STII team lead Michelle Dutko said: “This OTA allowed contracts team to tailor the scope of the project and narrow down vendor capabilities by releasing a Statement of Need (SON) early on.

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“The OTA also provided the opportunity for the team to develop statement of work with vendor input therefore streamlining the normal processing time to contract award.”

Once initial R&D phase is complete, Dutko said that the US Navy and the USMC are planning to conduct a prototype demonstration of the new system with a surrogate aircraft and then with an MQ-9A uncrewed aircraft.

The integration of new ANE STII system onto MQ-9 is expected to take place by 2026.

The STII system is a network pod, which is being developed to provide additional capability to MQ-9 aircraft for conducting operational missions.

This system will provide tactical operational communications and data sharing capabilities to the aircraft for the execution of intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) concept of operations.