General Atomics, which builds the Reaper "hunter-killer" drones used in Iraq and on the US border, has proposed an upgrade that would increase the MQ-9 Reaper's flying time from 27 hours to 42. Two different versions of the upgrade — both of which retrofit existing aircraft — are available: one adds an extra pair of fuel pods, and the other also replaces the current 66-foot wings with 88-foot ones. Both changes require heavy-weight landing gear to handle the extra weight of the wings or pods, making the redesigned Reaper weigh about six tons.
There's no note on how much the upgrades cost, or whether the various agencies that own Reaper drones will even want them. Although General Atomics still emphasizes the Reaper's capability as a weapon, these changes seem primarily designed to optimize it as a surveillance tool, something that's in line with its increasing use outside war zones. Since the US Air Force has also scaled back its drone program, this could keep its remaining Reapers in the sky longer. However, it would also mean even more footage to sift through, something that agencies are still struggling to manage.