Mali mission spurs French interest in purchasing armed UAV

France is deepening its interest in acquiring the Reaper UAV from the U.S.

From Pierre Tran, Defense News:  France is deepening its interest in acquiring the Reaper UAV from the U.S., a move that would stir political sensitivities over purchasing a weapons-firing UAV, while Paris readies to cut its defense budget, government and industry sources said.

Meanwhile, EADS has submitted an offer to extend the contract for its Harfang medium-altitude, long-endurance UAV, the sources said.

The vast distances and intelligence needs in Mali have underlined the French military’s need for a UAV capable of relatively high speed and a long time in the combat zone, defense sources said.

Harfang could serve as a gap-filler, an industry executive said, since delivery of the first Reaper would likely take at least two years.

French procurement officials are preparing a letter of request for the General Atomics Reaper, two defense sources said. That letter is due to be sent “soon,” an industry executive said. A French defense official confirmed a letter is under preparation, although no date has been set for dispatch.

“This will launch the official procedure for access to financial information, timetable and options” for the Reaper, the official said. Talks with the U.S. Air Force helped French officials draw up the letter of request, the official said. . . .

Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian wants to see all the options before deciding, a second official said.

“We’re getting everything ready for when the minister hits the ‘go’ button,” a senior official said.

Le Drian asked for a study of options for an intermediate MALE UAV last year, reversing the previous administration’s pick of the Heron TP UAV from Dassault Aviation and Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI). He said at the time that the Heron did not meet requirements.

Acquiring the Reaper is politically sensitive because the version France wants is capable of carrying weapons.

Britain is the only European country that operates an armed Reaper model; Italy flies a surveillance version of the UAV. . . .

Cassidian could later integrate the Reaper into the NATO Alliance Ground Surveillance program, based on the Global Hawk UAV, due to enter service in 2017. A later version of the Reaper could include a maritime radar and electronic warfare gear. . . .

France acquired the Harfang, based on the IAI Heron, at a similar price to that paid by the Israeli government, a second industry executive said. The Harfang entered service in 2008 after a long delay due to EADS’ problems in fitting a French satellite communications link.

An extension of the Harfang is needed in any case. If France bought the Reaper, delivery is likely to take at least two years, the first official said.

The French Air Force has four Harfang units, two of which are flying over Mali supporting ground troops. One unit is held for spares, the fourth is kept for training.  (photo: Ethan Miller/Getty)  (via James Rogers)

Image: getty%202%2023%2013%20MQ-9-Reaper-at-Creech.jpg