The Defense Department announced recently that it has awarded Poway-based General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc. a $125.5 million contract for 10 upgraded versions of the Reaper unmanned aircraft.

It is the first large order for the variant, said a company spokeswoman.

Called Block 1-plus, the aircraft has a number of upgrades from the standard Reaper. They include an increase in electrical power capacity, new communication capabilities and new landing gear. The latter can accommodate heavier payloads or more fuel.

The Reaper is also known as the Predator B.

The Block 1-plus made its first flight in May at the company’s Gray Butte Flight Operations facility in Palmdale. The company announced the first flight four months later.

A Pentagon statement said it expects the company to complete the work on the 10 aircraft by late 2014.

In other news, the Pentagon awarded GA-ASI a $7 million research and development contract to upgrade Predator software. A Pentagon document said the software pertains to “continuous look/attack management” and that the government expects the contractor to complete the project by late 2016.

The Predator aircraft can carry instruments to collect intelligence; it can also fire missiles. Predator B has been in production since 2003.

— SDBJ Staff Report