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France ‘to buy US drones’


Paris is reportedly mulling the purchase of the US-made surveillance Reaper drones in a bid to grow its military capabilities, according to a French defence ministry source.


In the midst of France’s Operation Serval in Mali, Paris is considering buying US-made unarmed surveillance drones to boost its military capabilities, a source from the defence ministry told AFP on Friday.

According to French weekly newspaper La Tribune, Paris made an official request to Washington to acquire US made Reaper drones - the same unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) that the US adapted for targeted kills of al Qaeda fighters in Pakistan.

“A letter has been sent to Washington to evaluate the feasibility" of France possibly purchasing the drones, the source said. While the US Congress should grant permission for the sale of unarmed Reaper drones to France at the end of the year, Paris will have to wait until 2020 for surveillance and combat equipped drones.

The next arms race

Though Paris has not confirmed a final purchase of the US drones, it’s clear that unarmed aircraft are increasingly seen as an integral part of modern warfare and could even be the focus of the next global arms race. US-based defence analyses firm the Teal Group estimated in June that the global market for the research, development and procurement of armed drones will almost double in the next decade, from €5.1 billion to €8.8 billion. With the US owning 7,140 unarmed vehicles in 2012 and with more than 70 countries now in possession of some type of drone, it could be argued that there’s no better time for France to expand its own UAV inventory.

With France only possessing three types of drones - the DRAC, the Sperwer, the Harfang - the French are in the market for more robust unmanned aircraft to aid their missions in Afghanistan and Mali. Earlier this year, Paris got a taste of that technology when the US military provided crucial support to French troops with their Predator class drones in Mali.

The booming business of drones

France could also be seeking out a drone purchase from the US to gain a competitive advantage: in recent years, Europe’s defence industry has seemingly lagged behind, while the US and Israel have taken the lead in research and development of drone technology.

Recently, European production of drones has focused on the smaller, less expensive models used for surveillance purposes. The larger and more sophisticated UAVs are made in the US, Clara O’Donnell, a defence expert at the Centre for European Reform told FRANCE 24. Europe is also keen to develop longer-range drones designed for air-to-air combat, which could ultimately replace fighter jets.

A perfect example of this is the pan European stealth drone project dubbed “the Neuron”. Led by French defence company Dassault-Aviation along with a number of other European defence firms, the drone underwent its first test run in Istres, France in December. Though not expected to be operational for several years, programme officials say it provides a perfect test case for developing future combat aircraft.

With France devoting just €40 billion on defence and the US spending a whopping of €538 billion, France and Europe will likely continue to look to the Americans for the latest developments in drone technology.

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