French Chief Describes Reaper Plans

 - November 22, 2013, 11:50 AM
The commander of the French Air Force, Gen. Denis Mercier (Photo: Chris Pocock)

France and the UK have agreed a common military staff requirement for a future medium-altitude long-endurance (Male) UAS, according to Gen. Denis Mercier, commander of the French Air Force. However, he cautioned that the move would not automatically result in the development by European industry of a Male UAV “because there is no money available at the moment.” European aerospace leaders have been pressing for the launch of a “Euro-Male” development program.

Mercier spoke to AIN and other trade media while visiting the Dubai Airshow this week. He said that France might not buy more than two GA-ASI Reaper UAVs and two ground stations, even though the formal French requirement is for 12 UAVs. The first three French crews will complete their training in the U.S. by the end of this month, he revealed. A joint training exercise with Italy, which also operates Reapers, will follow next month. The Reaper system will then be deployed to Africa to maintain surveillance over Mali, where it will eventually replace the Harfang system based on the IAI Heron UAV. Training could also be conducted in segregated French airspace, Mercier noted. He confirmed that the French Reapers will not be armed, in acknowledgement of “public sensitivity.”

The French Air Force still plans to buy 50 A400M airlifters and 14 A330MRTT air refueling tankers from Airbus Military, Mercier said. A second A400M will be delivered by year-end, followed by four next year and a total of 15 by the end of 2017. The first two tankers will be ordered next year, for delivery in 2018.

The French and British air forces are forging ever closer ties, as envisioned by the Lancaster House agreement. Mercier revealed that the boards of the two services met jointly in Paris last week. Seven general-rank officers from each air force attended the meeting, which he described as “unprecedented.”