Despite recently acquiring the GA-ASI Reaper UAS from the U.S., the French air force has extended the service of its predecessor UAS, the Harfang, until at least the end of 2017. The Harfang UAS consists of IAI Heron 1 UAVs that are equipped with a communications and control system designed by Airbus Defence & Space (previously EADS Cassidian) in France. The French defense procurement agency, DGA, has recently signed contracts with main contractor Airbus D&S, and with IAI, for the upgrade and continued maintenance of the Harfang system.
The current Harfang fleet consists of four UAVs and three ground control stations. It recently passed a milestone 10,000 flight hours in more than 900 missions. The Harfang (French for Arctic snowy owl) has flown over Afghanistan and Libya in NATO operations, and more recently has been used in several French operations in sub-Saharan Africa. It carries an Israeli EO/IR and radar payload.
French military certification qualified the Harfang UAVs to fly in French national airspace in connection with special events. Most recently, one performed surveillance over Normandy during the D-Day 70th-anniversary celebrations. Training flights have also been allowed from the Harfang squadron’s home base at Cognac. An Airbus D&S spokesman told AIN that the authorities allowed flights over France only because of the assurance provided by the Harfang’s Lygarion communications system, supplied by Airbus D&S. Lygarion is also on the company’s Tanan VTOL UAS and on its recent Textron Shadow UAS proposal to the French Army.
Airbus D&S reported that control of a Harfang that took off from its deployed base in Niamey, Niger, and its sensors was transferred to a ground control station at Cognac for the first time recently. This proves the “Reachback” concept and expands ISR capacity with no need to leave national territory, the company said.
The French air force decided to buy up to 12 Reaper UAS in May last year. But air force commander Gen. Dennis Mercier told AIN last November that procurement might be limited to just the two systems already delivered at that time. With France’s defense budget suffering further cuts, that now appears to be the case.