The French air force has two Harfangs deployed to Mali. According to official French defense publications, they performed well during Operation Serval earlier this year. The new contract with Cassidian provides for an extra 1,000 flight hours per year, for a total of 3,000. But the Harfang system was unexpectedly costly to acquire and uses expensive Ka-band commercial satellite links for command, control and communications (C3). What’s more, French defense officials have said they need much greater coverage of Africa than two Harfang systems can provide.
A Cassidian official told AIN last June that the company had proposed buying four to six more Heron UAVs from Israel and upgrading them for France. A few days later, however, French defense minister Yves Le Drian told French legislators that there was “no alternative” to the Reaper. The U.S. Congress was soon notified of the possible $1.5 billion sale to France of 16 MQ-9 Reaper UAVs and eight mobile ground control stations, Ku-band communications systems, 40 Raytheon MTS-B EO/IR video systems and 40GA-ASI Lynx SAR/GMTI radars. The sale has proceeded, although a French defense official has told AIN that the numbers of aircraft and systems to be acquired are lower than stated to Congress.