The Missile Defense Agency awarded General Atomics Electromagnetic Systems a $134 million dollar contract Aug. 21 for the development, integration, and flight testing of an advanced sensor in an MQ-9 unmanned aerial vehicle.

The agency will test the MQ-9 with the advanced sensor “in realistic test scenarios” at locations inside and outside the continental United States, according to a Department of Defense statement. The MQ-9, which is designed for both intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance missions and ordnance delivery, is currently fitted with Raytheon’s multi-spectral targeting system, which combines electro-optical infrared sensors with laser designation and laser illumination capabilities to form one holistic precision targeting system.

In June 2016, two MQ-9′s tracked a ballistic missile target during the Pacific Dragon missile defense drill, which included the United States, Japan and South Korea.

But the agency has envisioned an even greater role for the Reaper in missile defense missions than tracking targets. According to the Arms Control Association, the Department of Defense has planned to spend $563.5 million in FY19 as the MDA works towards its goal of deploying a laser-armed high-altitude, long-endurance drone by 2023.

The Defense Department said the contract was competitively run under MDA’s broad agency announcement for advanced technology innovation, which solicited submissions for white papers on 11 topics ranging from sensors and communications to international ballistic missile defense system cooperation to advanced kill vehicle technology and architecture. Work on the contract will be performed in San Diego, California, and run from August 2018 through October 2021.

Daniel Cebul is an editorial fellow and general assignments writer for Defense News, C4ISRNET, Fifth Domain and Federal Times.

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