France has formally requested to buy 16 General-Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc. (GA-ASI) MQ-9 Reaper Remotely Piloted Aircraft (RPA) from the U.S., a sale that could top US$1.5 billion. France had allocated $250 million to buy the first two Reapers ordered in May 2013, to be delivered from production lots destined for the US Air Force. These drones will be delivered by the end of this year to fulfill urgent requirements for persistent, long-range ISR support of the French led operation in Mali. The remaining 10-14 (depending on the actual order) aircraft will be shipped in late 2015 or early 2016. To maintain its ISR capability, France plans to extend the support contract with EADS, maintaining the Heron I ‘Harfang’ in service until 2016.
The formal request came days after GA-ASI announced it is investing in the development of an ‘exportable’ version of the Reaper Unmanned Aerial System (UAS) that will make this platform easier to modify and adapt for European airworthiness certification. One of the sour spots of the Reaper in RAF and Italian service was insufficient access to the aircraft systems, allowing its certification for civilian airspace use in Europe.
These aircraft will be supplied with eight mobile ground control stations, and 24 Satellite Earth Terminals (supporting home-based and forward based operations). According to the US Defense Security Cooperation Agency notification to Congress, no offset agreements were offered in connection with this potential sale.
The drones will be supplied with 40 mission payload packages, which will consist of exportable versions of the GA-ASI Lynx Synthetic Aperture Radar / ground Moving Target Indicator (SAR/GMTI) systems, Raytheon AN/DAS-1 Multi-Spectral Targeting Systems (MTS)-B, Embedded Global Positioning System/Inertial Navigation Systems (EGI), ARC-210 airborne radios, KU band airborne communications links and associated Ground Data Terminals. The drones will also get the AN/APX-119 and KIV-119 Identify Friend or Foe (IFF) Systems.
France plans to employ the new Reapers with its Air Force, to enhance Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (ISR) capability in support of national, NATO, United Nation-mandated, and other coalition operations. According to the DSCA, the commonality of ISR capabilities with such Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV) with those of the US and the UK will increase interoperability between the U.S and French military and peacekeeping forces.
The agency noted that France has requested these capabilities to meet current and future threats by providing improved ISR coverage that promotes increased battlefield situational awareness, anticipates enemy intent, augments combat search and rescue, and provides ground troop support. Weaponization of those 16 Reapers has not been disclosed in the recent report and was not mentioned in the Defense White Paper recently published by the French Government.
As one of the world’s leading technological drivers of unmanned systems and robotics, Israel provides a hub for technological innovation, technical knowhow and practical, operational experience.
The upcoming Autonomous Unmanned Systems & Robotics conference will provide an opportunity for local and international experts in the field, for networking and exchange of ideas.