WASHINGTON — The U.S. State Department has given the green light for Belgium to buy MQ-9B Sky Guardian drones from General Atomics, a deal that could be worth about $600 million.

The deal would include four MQ-9B drones, two ground stations, five AN/DAS-4 multispectral targeting systems, 15 embedded GPS/inertial navigation systems, five AN/APY-8 Lynx synthetic aperture radars, and five detect-and-avoid systems. It also includes spares, testing and training equipment necessary to support a five-year period of operations, the Defense Security Cooperation Agency said in a news release.

Belgium announced its plan to buy the Sky Guardian last year, around the same time it declared its intent to buy Lockheed Martin’s F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. This all-in decision to pursue U.S. equipment stands in stark contrast to Germany, which decided against the F-35 as well as the Sky Guardian despite an intense lobbying campaign by U.S. industry.

The Sky Guardian was developed by General Atomics as a version of the MQ-9 Reaper that could fly though civil airspace in the U.S. and Europe without special permission from the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration or NATO. The company touts the aircraft as having a longer endurance and life span compared to the Block 5 Reaper.

According to DSCA, Belgium will use the Sky Guardian drones for domestic security and to increase interoperability with NATO allies.

“The current fleet of Belgian Air Component aircraft have proven insufficient to support sustained and persistent ISR operations,” the DSCA release stated. “The proposed sale will enable the Belgian Air Component to conduct persistent and wide area ISR, including target acquisition, target designation, providing precision coordinates for Global Positioning System (GPS)-aided munitions, battle damage assessment, signal intelligence, communication, and data relays.”

The Senate is almost certain to approve the sale of the MQ-9B to Belgium, which is a member of NATO. At that point, negotiations will formally begin, and final quantities and prices may change during that process.

Sebastian Sprenger in Cologne, Germany, contributed to this report.

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.

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