December 19, 2012
French defense procurement agency DGA is in talks with the U.S. Air Force to acquire the General Atomics-built MQ-9 Reaper as a possible interim solution to its medium-altitude, long-endurance UAV requirement.
Speaking to reporters here Dec. 19, DGA chief Laurent Collet-Billon said he is discussing the option of purchasing the drones through the U.S. Foreign Military Sales (FMS) program.
The French are planning to acquire an interim MALE UAV to replace the Harfang drone, followed by a next-generation MALE development with the U.K. and potentially other European partners.
Reaper, also known as Predator B, is one of two possible options DGA is considering for the short-term solution, the other being the Heron TP built by Israel Aerospace Industries, according to French officials.
Last week French lawmakers said Reaper is the preferred option for its relative affordability and the potential to “Europeanize” the drone.
“Discussions are under way with General Atomics to build these American drones with European sensors and armaments,” lawmakers from the European affairs committee wrote in an interim report on European defense posture issued Dec. 13, though Collet-Billon said DGA is not discussing Reaper with San Diego-based General Atomics.
Given that Reaper is in service with the U.K. and Italy, and that Germany and Poland also are considering Reaper buys, “the favored scenario is to start with a Europeanization of equipment, then gradually the drone itself,” Collet-Billon says.
In November U.K. Ambassador to France Peter Ricketts alluded to the potential for broadening development of a European MALE capability based on Reaper, which the U.K. is currently flying in Afghanistan.
“For a certain number of years we’ve been using it, and it’s not true that we can’t add our own means to this platform,” he told French lawmakers in Nov. 13 testimony. “I’m not going to say too much more about this, but it is possible. You can add a certain number of sovereign things to platforms like Reaper.”