According to a report issued by Defense News, an extended-range(ER) version of the unmanned aerial vehicle MQ-9 Reaper is due tobe purchased by the US Air Force. The new drone’s design wouldallow it to operate for 42 hours, or 35 hours if loaded with amissile, significantly extending UAV’s flying range.Although there has been no official comment on related budgetsubmissions, a senior Defense Department source told the media thata request for funding the program will be considered by Congress asearly as this March.“The program is going to go forward,” Chris Pehrson,Director for Strategic Development with Reaper builder GeneralAtomics was quoted as saying. “They’ve approved it; it’s amatter of details now,” he added, declining to comment furtheron budgetary expectations.Pehrson explained the demand for longer-range drones by thefading presence of the US military in Afghanistan, as well as bythe US pivot to the Pacific and a renewed focus on Africa.Ultimately, the extended range model would allow the US to makeincursions into Pakistan despite the loss of the Afghan bases.Afghanistan is where many US drones have been launched over thepast decade, and the number of such launches has recently surged asthe troops withdrawal from the country nears.Meanwhile, the US Air Force officials say that spending money ona new set of Reapers will help them economize on drone operationsin the future, and even suggest the overall number of UAVs could bereduced as a result.“Everyone has been working toward a normalized CAP [combatair patrol]. You have roughly between two and three per CAP,fleetwide right now. And if you’ve got an extended-rangecapability, you might be able to cut that down because yourairplanes can stay aloft longer,” Col. Bill Tart, director ofthe Air Force’s Remotely Piloted Aircraft Capabilities Division,has recently said, as he commented on “certain efficiencies”his department was looking for.Another bonus for the US military would be the backwardcompatibility of the newly designed wings and fuel tanks to the oldReaper’s fuselage. That means a set of new wings, winglets andtanks could easily be attached to the UAV’s already in service.However, there was no mention of the upgraded drone’snavigational system reliability, nor is it likely to change thenotorious amount of collateral damage dealt by drone strikes.Recently, a senior US senator publicly announced that the numberof drone strike victims has reached 4,700 people, which includeinnocent civilians.Having admitted that, the US will not hesitate to spend $500,000to $1 million per unit for an advanced new drone, according todirector Pehrson’s rough estimates.