France to Buy Two US Reaper Drones for Mali

Le Drian: "We need this capacity in the short term"

From Leigh Thomas, Reuters:  France is in talks with the United States and Israel to buy intelligence-gathering drones to build up a modern fleet, Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said on Sunday. . . .

"We need this capacity in the short term. There are currently two countries in the world that build drones, the United States and Israel," Le Drian said on TV channel iTele. . . .

Le Monde newspaper reported on Saturday that France had received approval from the U.S. Pentagon to buy two Reaper drones, and that the deal only needed backing from Congress.

The newspaper said France was looking at eventually buying a total of five or seven Reapers, built by privately held General Atomics, for 300 million euros ($384.72 million).

From Pierre Tran, Defense News:  France expects the US will soon approve the speedy shipment of two Reaper surveillance drones after sending a formal request in early May, American and French sources said.

French acquisition of the first batch of unarmed General Atomics Reapers seals a long-running, politically charged debate on what type of aircraft the Air Force will use to fill a capability gap in medium-altitude, long-endurance unmanned aircraft.

The Reaper deal aims to boost military capabilities, but a tight budget means France will cut orders for the Rafale fighter and multimission frigates while leaving the door open to purchasing a multirole armored vehicle off the shelf.

US officials received a letter of request from the French government this month, asking for the two air vehicles and a ground station to be delivered by the end of the year.

The two UAVs will be pulled out of the production line to allow an accelerated delivery to France for the Mali mission, a US official said.

“This is pretty unique,” the official said. “This is a sign of friendship and collaboration between the US and France.”

That approach reflects Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel’s concern to help allies, said Robbin Laird, with consultancy ICSA based here and in Washington.

Laird summed up Hagel’s view as: “What means can be generated to show practical support for allies facing near-term threats?”

A letter of acceptance from US authorities is expected soon, a French source briefed on the subject said.

The two Reapers are the first batch in an order of 12 theater surveillance UAVs cited in the French defense and national security white paper published April 29.

The letter of request from France asked for “up to 16” air vehicles, a second American official said.

France’s intervention in Mali showed an urgent need for a long-endurance, high-speed drone to provide cover in the northern part of the country. Paris will keep about 1,000 French special operations troops in that region as part of a counterinsurgency campaign after pulling out most of the soldiers sent over in the Serval mission.

“What’s important is to have the first two [Reapers] to plug the capability gap,” the French source said. In a second phase, more Reapers will be shipped in late 2015 or early 2016.

The budget for the Reapers is around US $250 million. That compares with an estimated €1 billion (US $1.3 billion) to develop a European medium-altitude, long-endurance UAV as proposed by Dassault Aviation and BAE Systems.  (graphic: Fox News)

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