Reapers Displacing French And Maybe German Herons

Even as French aircrews began training in theU.S. on the Reaper UAS, EADS Cassidian announced that it had received a one-year extension to its support contract for the HarfangUAS that the French air force intends to replace with the American drone. Cassidian also noted that the similar Heron UAS operated by the German air force and supported by the company has logged 15,000 hours over Afghanistan. The Germans are also considering a Reaper buy as a replacement for the Israeli-origin UAVs.

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.

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