France to Deploy Two U.S.-made Reaper drones in the Sahel

Written by | Monday, December 23rd, 2013

The French Air Force’s strategic reconnaissance capability in the Sahel will be strengthened by the deployment of two U.S.-made Reaper surveillance drones delivered to France last week.
Besides the two MQ-9 Reaper medium-altitude long endurance (MALE) drones, manufactured by the American company General Atomics and designed for strategic reconnaissance, France also got a ground station and the necessary maintenance documentation.
The Reaper Drone will replace the Harfang drones used by the French Air Force in several operations, including in Afghanistan, Libya and Mali since 2008.
Before placing its order with the U.S. for the purchase of twelve Reaper drones, the French Defense department had another option, that of purchasing the Israeli Heron TP but the Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI), the developer and manufacturer of the Heron and Heron TP, has not succeeded in winning the French Air Force’s order, although it had teamed with Dassault Aviation and EADS to form industry teams to support the selection of its drones.
Anyways, the purchase of foreign drones is considered temporary, since France is developing programs to manufacture its own drones, considered as the centerpiece of future intelligence and combat operations. Two such programs are currently underway in France, namely the collaborative development of a jet-powered Unmanned Combat Air Vehicle (UCAV) known as NeuroN, which is expected to replace some manned aircraft by 2030, and another program with the British industry to jointly develop a UAS.
Meanwhile, Dassault is cooperating with IAI on the development of a future MALE platform addressing the French requirements.
The French defense minister, Jean- Yves Le Drian, confirmed in statements to the local media that the unmanned reconnaissance aircraft will be based in the Sahel.
The drones will strengthen the surveillance and intelligence capacity of French forces in Africa where they are involved in two military operations in Mali and in the Central African Republic. The intervention in Mali has shown the shortcomings of the Harfang drones in matters of surveillance and intelligence capacity, prompting Paris to place an order of twelve drones with the United States last spring.
According to the French Defense Department estimates, the twelve Reaper drones will cost about 670 million euros.

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