LONDON — France could buy as many as 16 MQ-9 Reaper remotely piloted aircraft, a Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA) note to the US Congress has revealed.
The Reapers are included in a potentially $1.5 billion Foreign Military Sales package of vehicles, ground stations, training, spares and logistical support for the possible sale to the French Air Force, the DSCA informed Congress on Thursday.
The requirement, at least in the near term, is expected to number around 12 Reapers, with the first two delivered within months to urgently bolster surveillance capabilities in Mali, where France intervened earlier this year.
DSCA said the possible package also included eight mobile ground stations, 24 satellite earth terminal substations, 48 Honeywell turboprop engines, 40 General Atomics Lynx radars and a raft of other supporting systems.
French Air Force chief Gen. Denis Mercier told Defense News during an interview at the Paris Air Show last week that the platforms will initially be focused on surveillance duties but that a strike capability could be added at a later date.
Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) has been competing to supply its remotely piloted Heron aircraft to France and last week submitted a new offer in a last-ditch effort to save the deal going the way of the General Atomics-built Reaper.
The French Air Force presently operates just four Harfang medium-altitude, long-endurance (MALE) platforms derived from the Heron.
Earlier this week, General Atomics launched a company-funded research and development effort to enable the remotely piloted vehicle to meet NATO and European airworthiness standard.
Neal Blue, General Atomics chairman and CEO, said the company had taken the move because “It is imperative that we ensure airworthiness certification of Predator B [Reaper] at home and abroad as coalition forces withdraw from Afghanistan and nations transition mission focus to protection of the homeland and other civil uses.”
The General Atomics move comes hard on the heels of a controversial decision by Germany to cancel a major Global Hawk deal with Northrop Grumman due to certification difficulties.
General Atomics said it was strengthening its partnership with RUAG Aerospace Services of Germany to help define the long-term solutions and enhancements for airworthiness standardization in NATO and the UK.
Britain and Italy already operate the Reaper. General Atomics is also pitching to secure deals with the Netherlands and Germany.
The Reaper’s threatened dominance of the European MALE market was partly responsible for triggering a public letter from Dassault Aviation, EADS Cassidian and Finmeccanica to governments in the region urging them to collaborate in developing a rival platform.