PARIS — France ordered a fourth batch of Reaper medium-altitude long-endurance (MALE) drones on Dec. 5, with delivery due in 2019, the arms procurement office has revealed.
"The Direction Générale de l'Armement (DGA) ordered Dec. 5, 2016, the fourth system of MALE drones of the Reaper class," the DGA said in a Jan. 10 statement. A DGA spokesman declined to give the value of the order.
The annex of the 2017 defense budget shows France this year sets aside €84 million, or $89 million, for acquisition in the MALE drone sector, with various amounts to be paid in the coming years, starting with a payment of €35 million ($37 million) this year, €27 million ($28.5 million) in 2018, €21 million ($22 million) in 2019 and €1.38 million after 2019.
The MALE drone sector includes the Harfang, an interim MALE drone from Airbus Defence & Space, Reaper bought under the US foreign military sale program, and a planned European MALE UAV, with France working with Germany, Italy and Spain.
The latest order completes the plan to acquire four General Atomics MQ-9 Reaper systems as part of the 2014-2019 military budget law. Each system comprises three units.
The DGA, which has received a second batch of Reapers, also said two of those units were deployed Dec. 31 to Niamey, Niger. The French services fly UAVs from that air base in Niger to support the Barkhane military mission over the sub-Saharan Sahel region.
The third unit of that second batch will soon be sent to the air base at Cognac, southwest France, where the Belfort squadron will use the drone to train personnel to fly the French Reaper, the procurement office said.
The French Air Force and DGA will also conduct trials for carrying the Reaper on the A400M and other military airlifters, and test the electromagnetic conditions for flying the drone around Cognac and in domestic airspace. The French Reapers have so far flown only in Africa, and the services plan to certify for flight in the skies over France.
Paris ordered the third Reaper batchin December 2015. The first two batches were in the Block 1 version, while the third and fourth were in the Block 5. The earlier versions are due to be upgraded to Block 5, which will allow them to be flown in Europe.
"MALE drones are essential tools in modern conflict zones, offering a major capability in terms of knowledge and anticipation," the DGA said. "They are capable of missions of intelligence gathering, surveillance, reconnaissance and target designation while operating, thanks to their endurance, over large areas, long distance and long periods," the procurement office said.