Predator B unmanned aircraft
MQ-9B is the latest evolution of the Predator B (shown) fleet. Photo: General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc.

San Diego-based General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc. has been awarded an $81 million contract by the US Air Force Life Cycle Management Center for the United Kingdom, the company announced Friday.

The contract provides for integration and component-level testing for UK specific enhancements to support the GA-ASI’s MQ-9B Protector unmanned aircraft system program, according to a statement from the company.

As part of the contract, a weaponized variant of the Protector is being acquired by the UK’s Royal Air Force. Designed to fly in excess of 40 hours with airspeeds up to 210 knots, at altitudes of more than 40,000 feet, the system will be capable of carrying more than 4,700 pounds of external payload, according to the statement.

The Protector program is a key capability for the UK, said Royal Air Force Air Marshal Julian Young. GA-ASI and the UK’s Military of Defense have worked “collaboratively” on the system, he said.

With offices in Poway and San Diego, General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc. is a designer and manufacturer of unmanned aircraft systems, radars, and electro-optic and related mission systems.