The Reapers' procurement is an ad hoc one, thus not a part of the Zefir MALE UAV procurement programme.
I would like to inform you that acquisition of MALE UAVs is pursued both within the framework of the ZEFIR programme that would meet the prospective needs for the development of the capabilities of the Armed Forces, as well as within the framework of urgent acquisition of the MQ-9 REAPER UAVs - in relation to the situation on the eastern border of the Republic of Poland, Lt. Col. Krzysztof Płatek told us, responding to our inquiry.
The decision within that scope had been made in the light of the situation on the eastern border of Poland before the conflict in Ukraine began. The Polish Ministry of Defence has been eyeing the procurement of MALE UAVs for quite some time now. Last year, on the occasion of the Wizjer UAV procurement, Mariusz Błaszczak, head of the Polish MoD, announced that the Zefir programme is going to be concluded by the end of 2022.
"Agreement concerning the WIZJER reconnaissance UAVs and the planned purchase of major quantities of loitering munitions is just the start. A procedure was launched to procure armed unmanned platforms in the GRYF programme, next year procurement process is going to be initiated, to acquire the first armed, operational MALE UAVs [...] When it comes to the latter class, dubbed Zefir, the Armament Inspectorate is getting ready to launch the procurement process - the official announcement is imminent", the Polish official stated via Twitter.
In the case of the Zefir programme, it was originally planned to procure 4 sets of 3 UAVs each. We do not know how many airframes would be acquired through the current urgent procurement. In late January the spokesman for the Armament Agency said that it is planned to finalize negotiation this year, regarding the FMS procurement of the M1A2 Abrams SEPv3 MBTs, and the first operational-level MALE UAVs. The changes that took place in the international security environment on the NATO Eastern Flank push us to reinforce the Armed Forces in both the areas related to land platforms and air systems as well, that can be procured, at the shortest possible notice, solely from the United States, he said.
Lt. Col. Płatek noted that for the Polish Ministry of Defence, apart from the reinforcement of the national defence capabilities, it is also important to place the orders at the Polish industrial entities, whenever the domestic contractors remain in possession of proper know-how and capacity, required to effectively and timely deliver military equipment meeting the requirements defined by the military. Not only is this aimed at maintaining, but also consequent establishment of the Polish industrial potential. Płatek also noted that this policy is also tied to the mitigation of the coronavirus pandemic.
The MQ-9 Reaper is a MALE UAS that is designed to carry our reconnaissance and combat sorties. The Reaper uses a Honeywell TPE331-10 turboprop engine, allowing the aircraft to attain flight endurance of up to 27 hours, whereas this number is halved when the UAV is carrying full armament. The standard variant offers a range exceeding 1,800 kilometers. Variants of the greater range also exist.
The MQ-9 can carry up to 1,361 kilograms of external payload-guided bomb units and missiles, including up to 8 Hellfire missiles, or GBU-12 Paveway bombs. New weapons are constantly being integrated. The user group includes France, Spain, the Netherlands, the US, the UK, and Italy. The UAVs in question have also been deployed to Poland by the USA.