The U.S. Air Force is buying a single General Atomics Predator C Avenger jet-powered unmanned combat aircraft, the service said in a document posted on the Federal Business Opportunities website on Dec. 9.
According to the heavily redacted document, Lt. Gen. Thomas Owen, commander of the service's Aeronautical Systems Center at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, approved the procurement. The value of the sole-source contract was redacted.
The document states that the partially stealthy aircraft will be used in Afghanistan as part of Operation Enduring Freedom. The Predator C is faster, has better sensor capacity and carries a greater payload than the existing MQ-9 Reaper unmanned combat aircraft. The Predator C also has an internal weapons bay and four external hard points, and it is capable of carrying 2,000-pound weapons. The aircraft is compatible with the Reaper's ground control station, the document said.
"This aircraft will act as the test vehicle to develop those next generation UAS [Unmanned Aircraft System] sensors, weapons, and Tactics, Techniques & Procedures (TTPs) ensuring a quick, smooth and efficient fielding of these advanced capabilities to the area of operations," the document said. "Currently, the combatant commanders, with the SECDEF's concurrence, have determined there are insufficient assets in-theater today to gather the necessary information and to fully engage the present threat."
Buying General Atomics' privately funded Predator C aircraft will help the Air Force prepare for current and next generation threats, the document said.
"This effort is an exceptional circumstance not only due to the need outlined by the SAF/AQ [Assistant Secretary of the Air Force (Acquisition)] but because it fulfills a multi-agency role by providing a test platform for both Office of Secretary of Defense (OSD) and customers under an ongoing, classified SECDEF directed program," the document stated.
The aircraft is being procured for classified "customer" who needs the jet urgently. The Predator C was apparently the only aircraft that could fill the Defense Department's needs on such short notice.
Flight International first reported the procurement on Dec. 12.