PARIS — Drone-maker General Atomics will sell an unarmed version of its Predator unmanned system to the United Arab Emirates and other countries in the Middle East as part of a plan to boost international sales, a vice president said.
The drone, called the Predator XP, is equipped with radar and sensors to offer wide-area surveillance but not weapon systems such as laser-guided bombs or air-to-ground missiles, according to Christopher Ames, director of international strategic development for General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc., based near San Diego.
The design gives it a different type of missile classification that means it can be sold directly to foreign customers and outside of the federal government’s foreign military sale process, Ames said.
“It opens up a whole range of new markets that had been previously closed,” he said in an interview with Military.com at the Paris Air Show. “Allies and coalition members were saying, ‘When do we get our Predator?’”
The company has built more than 575 medium and high-altitude remotely piloted aircraft, including those made popular by their Air Force designations, MQ-1 Predator and MQ-9 Reaper. The U.S. military in the past decade has used both systems to conduct strikes against insurgents and suspected terrorists in countries such as Iraq and Afghanistan.
The company made an effort to display a new Predator B at the show, Ames said. “I’m told we’re one of the only U.S. companies displaying an actual aircraft,” he said. “We worked hard to make it happen.”
The Paris show was noteworthy this year for its dearth of American-made fighter jets, cargo planes, helicopters and drones. The Defense Department drastically scaled back its presence at the event due to federal budget cuts and increased congressional scrutiny of travel spending.
Among the aircraft notably missing in action: the fourth-generation F/A-18 Super Hornet and fifth-generation F-22 Raptor and F-35 Lightning II fighter jets; the V-22 Osprey tilt-rotor craft, which takes off like a helicopter and flies like an plane; the RQ-4 Global Hawk drone, the biggest unmanned aircraft in the fleet; even the C-130J cargo plane.
The Defense Department faces $500 billion in automatic cuts over the next decade. That’s in addition to almost $500 billion in defense reductions already included in 2011 deficit-reduction legislation. The first installment of the automatic cuts began March 1 after lawmakers were unable to reach an alternative agreement on taxes and spending.
General Atomics isn’t concerned that the across-the-board cuts, known as sequestration, will hurt its overall revenue, Ames said.
“There may be a dip on the U.S. side, but there may be a commensurate rise on the international side,” he said. “You would forfeit other things, but never having the unmanned eye in the sky.”
While the international market place is becoming increasingly congested with unmanned products, the company’s systems are “of a very high pedigree” and remain popular, Ames said.
The company sees increasing demand in Europe for the Predator B and in the Asia-Pacific region for a maritime version of the craft, he said. It also expects the U.S. Air Force to buy more of the jet-powered Predator C, which can fly at speeds of up to 400 knots, compared with a top speed of 240 knots for its other types of craft, he said.