The U.S. State Department has authorized the sale of five General Atomics-built MQ-9 Reaper drones to the Spanish military, the first time the European country has bought the unmanned aerial vehicle, or UAV. The value of the sale, which includes the aircraft, parts and logistical support, will be a little more than $240 million, according to details of the deal released Tuesday evening by the Defense Security Cooperation Agency, a federal body that governs sales between U.S. defense manufacturers and foreign militaries.
Spain joins the U.K., Italy, France and the U.S. as countries operating the drone, which normally comes armed. The Spaniards say they will be using their versions of the UAV purely for reconnaissance.
"The Spanish air force intends to use the MQ-9s for homeland security, peacekeeping, peace enforcement, counterinsurgency and counter-terrorism operations," according to the sale listing on the Defense Security Cooperation Agency's website. "The proposed sale improves Spain's ability to meet current and future threats by providing improved ISR [intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance] coverage that promotes increased battlefield situational awareness, anticipates enemy intent, augments combat search and rescue, and provides ground troop support."
The deal comes as U.S. Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter was visiting U.S. Marines at a base in Seville, Spain.
While drone warfare has received severe criticism for the way operators, who are often thousands of miles away, hit their targets, the UAVs have become a staple of military equipment in a global military landscape where budgets among Western nations are being cut.
a Thank You Shoutout to my new FoLLoWerS: control station of MQ-9 Reaper drones (photo by A1C Michael Shoemaker) pic.twitter.com/5jEch8GZ
— SgtJim (@sgt_jim) October 20, 2012
Buying new military jets can cost billions and take years to be delivered, not to mention the resources required to train fighter pilots, who represent a possible human liability inside a war zone. Drones are relatively inexpensive and remove the risk of having a downed pilot captured or killed.
Before the sale can be fully finalized, Congress must approve the terms of the deal and a contract has to be drawn up.
General Atomics, formerly part of General Dynamics, is a privately held military contractor based in San Diego.