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France to fit weapons on Reaper drones
France will ultimately have a fleet of 12 Reapers. © DGA

France to fit weapons on Reaper drones

French minister of the armed forces, Florence Parly, has announced that French Air Force medium-altitude long-endurance (MALE) Reaper drones will be fitted with weapons.

France’s new minister of the armed forces, Florence Parly, has announced that the country’s MQ-9 Reaper remotely piloted aircraft (RPAs) are to be fitted with precision guided weapons — reportedly Hellfire missiles.

Addressing a gathering of defence officials in Toulon on 5th September, Parly explained that the Reapers were performing essential surveillance missions but that operations are handicapped by the need to call in other aircraft or helicopters to neutralise a target if required — a disadvantage in the case of time-sensitive targets.

It will be the first time that France deploys armed RPAs, prompting Parly to reassure her audience: “Armed drones are not killer robots.” She said the rules of engagement would be the same as for other French land-based or airborne weapons. She indicated that the Europe's future MALE drone would also carry weapons.

The 1/33 “Belfort” squadron of the French Air Force currently operates five Reapers, based at Niamey, Nigeria, in support of Operation Barkhane, the French-led operation to combat terrorist groups in the Sahel-Saharan region of Africa. General Atomics Aeronautical Systems delivered a second batch of three aircraft in January.

Current plans call for the French Air Force to be equipped with 12 Reapers and associated personnel by 2019.

The UK has been operating armed Reapers for several years and plans to install MBDA Brimstone missiles on the RAF’s future Protector variant of the RPA.

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