WASHINGTON ― Privately held drone maker General Atomics, of San Diego, is laying off approximately 630 of its roughly 10,000 employees.
“General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc. can confirm a reduction in force involving 6% of its workforce,” a spokesperson wrote in an email to Defense News late Wednesday. “This reduction was made to balance resources with customer requirements.”
The layoffs were announced internally Wednesday and confirmed by the company, which did not specify which operations were impacted.
General Atomics and Northrop Grumman were two beneficiaries of the Trump administration’s recent decision to ease restrictions on overseas sales of unmanned aircraft. In addition, lawmakers are expected to boost Reaper buys in the near term, with House appropriators proposing to give General Atomics $344 million for 16 more MQ-9s in fiscal 2021.
But the company was also dealt a blow earlier this year when the Air Force announced it would stop buying the MQ-9 Reaper in fiscal year 2021, at least four years earlier than expected. And now the future of the program remains uncertain, with the Air Force looking at options to replace the MQ-9 Reaper.
Over the past two decades, the Reaper has served as one of the Air Force’s workhorse drones for surveillance and for striking targets in the Middle East. But service leaders believe it is ill-suited for a war with Russia and China. In addition, they believe it costs too much time and money to keep the aircraft ready for operations in low-threat environments.
“The Reaper has been a great platform for us. Four million flight hours, just undeniable overmatch in a low-end uncontested fight, and it is certainly saving lives,” Air Force acquisition executive Will Roper told lawmakers at a House Armed Services Committee hearing this March. “But as we look to the high-end fight, we just can’t take them into the battlefield. They are easily shot down.”
In June, the Air Force issued a request for information for an MQ-9 successor, underscoring the service’s plan to transition from the Reaper to a new surveillance and strike drone.
Joe Gould is the senior Pentagon reporter for Defense News, covering the intersection of national security policy, politics and the defense industry. He served previously as Congress reporter.
Valerie Insinna is Defense News' air warfare reporter. She previously worked the Navy/congressional beats for Defense Daily, which followed almost three years as a staff writer for National Defense Magazine. Prior to that, she worked as an editorial assistant for the Tokyo Shimbun’s Washington bureau.