The UK has signed a $125 million contract to develop upgraded Predator drones from US weapons maker General Atomic; buying the new aircraft may push the deal to $1 billion.
Speaking at the Regan National Defense Forum in California December 3, UK Defense Minister Michael Fallon said, “We’re planning to buy 20 aircraft that will double our current fleet.”
The UK has 10 drones that are still serviceable, but needs “to think ahead,” he said. (Predator drones are called Protector in the UK.)
The $125 million is for development work only, not the cost of producing the 20 new aircraft. The State Department told Congress last week that the UK plans to purchase up to 26 Protectors, a deal that may reach $1 billion, Defense News reported. According to Fallon, the new deal is part of a push to increase defense spending in the UK. Reuters reports that Fallon stressed his country’s commitment to NATO regional security — despite its vote this summer to leave the EU. The drones are to be used in the fight against Daesh, Fallon said. They will be equipped with missiles and laser-guided bombs, and the next generation models will have greater range, endurance, data collection and weapons capacity, among other improvements. “The arrival of a new administration is an opportunity for us in Britain to further tighten our bilateral defense ties,” Fallon said, according to Defense News. “There is no greater proof of the cooperation between Britain and the United States than the fact that our nuclear ballistic submarines share a common missile component, and we are investing billions in US attack helicopters, maritime patrol aircraft, drones and other systems.”