France Arms Reaper Drones with GBU-12 Laser-Guided Bombs

Florence Parly, Minister of the Armed Forces, Hails Success of the Firing Trials to Arm Drones

(Source: French Armed Forces Ministry; issued Dec. 19, 2019)

The French Air Force’s MQ-9 Reaper Block 1 unmanned aircraft have now been cleared to drop GBU-12 laser-guided bombs, while the new Block 5s to be delivered in 2020 will add GBU-49s and Hellfire missiles to their range of weapons. (FR AF photo)

PARIS --- The French military have successfully carried out firing trials with drones operating from Niamey air base in Niger, as part of Operation Barkhane.

“I would like to salute and congratulate all the personnel of the Ministry of the Armed Forces who were fully involved in the implementation of this new capability, two years after the decision I announced to arm our surveillance drones, following the guidelines set by the President of the Republic.

Armed drones will considerably improve the security of our soldiers on the ground and will strengthen our means in the face of an ever more fleeting enemy. These armed droned are now operational and deployed with Operation Barkhane.

Their main missions remain surveillance and intelligence-gathering, which is the primary vocation of drones, but they can also be extended to include airstrikes in compliance with the rules of engagement, if the opportunity arises, as increasing the pressure on armed terrorist groups.

In addition to the constant pressure on the enemy, armed drones have several other advantages, including their discretion, endurance and the ability they give our forces to react and decide more quickly and efficiently.

Arming drones is a new capability, and not a change of doctrine. The rules of engagement for armed drones are exactly the same as those for combat aircraft, which they complement.

These drones will continue to be operated in the theater of operations, in strict compliance with the law of armed conflict.

The arrival of armed drones in the Barkhane theater reflects our constant commitment to build modern and efficient armed forces.


(Source: French Armed Forces Ministry; issued Dec. 19, 2019)

Following the weapon trials from the forward-deployed air base at Niamey (Niger), as part of Operation Barkhane, armed drones will usefully supplement assets available in the Sahelo-Saharan strip. They will remain mainly devoted to surveillance and intelligence.

In a statement published Thursday, December 19, the Minister of the Armed Forces, Florence Parly, "hailed all the personnel of the Ministry of the Armed Forces who were fully involved" in the flight trials validating armed capabilities of drones.

Why armed drones?

On September 13, 2017, during the closing speech of the Defense Summer University, the Minister for the Armed Forces made a commitment to equip the armies with an armed drone capability. Promise kept.

The nature and use of armed drones is no different from that of manned armed aircraft. These armed drones will complement the force’s current capabilities with an opportunity action capability, combined with the drone’s ability to persist.

Discreet, enduring, armed drones will also shorten the time between identifying the enemy, making decisions and eventually destroying them. A decisive advantage in huge areas like the Sahel.

How will these drones be used?

Man is in the center of the loop, and will remain so. It is he who decides. Whether during surveillance work, reconnaissance of targets and, above all, when making engagement decisions. France’s choice is clear: the decision to fire an armed drone must be a human decision.

The permanent connection to the decision-making process (C2: command and control) of the operation (which is the responsibility of the operation commander), reinforces the perception with a view to making the right decision.

In addition, the drones will be piloted by personnel deployed in the overseas theater of operations, in this case as part of Barkhane force. Beyond the fact that the operators will always be involved (choice of target; time and method of delivering the weapon; guidance of the weapon), they are thus embedded - from the preparation of the mission and until its debriefing - with the forces with which they interact during the mission.

The rules of engagement of armed drones will obviously respect the principle of proportionality set out in international humanitarian law (principles of distinction, necessity, proportionality, precaution and humanity).

Ordnance launches by during Reaper drone operations are now possible, and will depend, as always, on the pace of operations and the needs of the operation commander.

What drones? with what weapons?

Today, the Air Force has two MALE (Medium Altitude, Long Endurance) Reaper drone systems (3 drones each), one of which has been permanently deployed in the Sahel since 2016.

Two additional Reaper systems will be delivered in two stages, starting in early 2020.

Each drone will be able to carry up to four 250 kg GBU-12 laser-guided bombs, which are already used by combat aircraft.

The last two Reaper drones to be delivered (Block 5 standard aircraft) will have full weapon capacity from the end of 2020: in addition to GBU-12 bombs, they will also be able to use Hellfire air-to-ground missiles (by end of 2020) and GBU-49 bombs (in 2021)


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