A Tampa defense manufacturer has won a five-year, $19.8 million contract to help teach airmen how to operate Predator and Reaper drones.
The contract, awarded to CAE USA, is part of one of last remaining growth areas in defense spending and comes at a time when the Department of Defense is drastically reducing its budget.
Though the contract award won't mean new local jobs, the company does expect to hire staff at the four Air Force bases around the country where the training will be conducted, according to company spokesman Chris Stellwag. And that is good news for the company, Stellwag said.
"The defense business right now is very difficult and highly competitive," Stellwag said. "When we win a sizable contract like this, certain it is important to sustain CAE's business. We will see the use of unmanned vehicles in the military grow substantially."
CAE USA will provide instructors who will train 1,500 Predator and Reaper crew members at Creech Air Force Base, Nev., Holloman Air Force Base, N.M., March Air Reserve Base, Calif. and Hancock Field Air National Guard Base, N.Y.
The training may take place at other bases as well, according to the Department of Defense.
CAE USA used to have the contract from 1998 until 2008, when the Air Force made it eligible only for small businesses. The contract is worth nearly twice as much as the last time CAE USA won it because the Air Force has greatly increased the number of drone crews, Stellwag said.
Winning the drone training contract helps offset the company losing out on a nearly $80 million contract to provide flight simulators to the Air Force for its new fleet of KC-46A aerial refueling tankers, which will replace the aging KC-135 Stratotankers. MacDill Air Force Base, which has 16 of the older jets, was not among the bases receiving the first wave of the new tankers.
CAE USA had bid on that contract, but it was awarded to FlightSafety International earlier this year.