SIMI VALLEY, Calif. Dec 3 Britain has signed a
$125 million contract with privately held U.S. weapons maker
General Atomics for development of a new drone, and plans to
eventually buy 20 of the new unmanned planes, Defense Minister
Michael Fallon said on Saturday.
"We're planning to buy 20 aircraft that will double our
current fleet," Fallon told Reuters in an interview at the
Reagan National Defense Forum in southern California. "We have
10 aircraft that still have some life in them, but we need to
Fallon gave no details on the expected cost of the new
drones. The contract announced Saturday is for development work,
not the cost of producing the 20 planes.
He said the new aircraft, a modified version of the Predator
aircraft, to be called Protector in Britain, would form a vital
part of Britain's security network and would be used in
Britain's fight against the Islamic State militant group.
The spending was part of a push by Britain to increase
defense spending for the first time in years, according to
Fallon. The new aircraft would substantially enhance Britain's
intelligence gathering capabilities and the firepower of the
Royal Air Force.
Fallon underscored Britain's commitment to NATO and European
security despite its vote to leave the European Union in June.
Each of the new drones is to be armed with UK-made Brimstone
2 missiles and Paveway IV laser-guided bombs.
The next-generation drones will offer improved range and
endurance, greater weapons capacity, automated take-off and
landing and better resilience against the elements, the UK
(Reporting by Andrea Shalal; Editing by Bill Rigby)