French Reaper drones stationed in Niamey conducted their first test firing.
The French Minister of the Armed Forces announced in September 2017 that the French Reaper drones would be weaponized. Finally, this Thursday, December 19, the aircraft “successfully carried out test firing”, reports the French Ministry of the Armed Forces (MinArm). Shots conducted from the BAP — a temporary air base of the French Air Force created to allow the accomplishment of a particular mission — of Niamey, 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 committed in the implementation of this new capability, two years after the decision I had announced to arm our surveillance drones, as part of guidelines set by the President of the Republic”, stated Florence Parly, Minister of the Armed Forces.
Weaponizing the French Reaper Block 1 UAVs therefore gives the armed forces a new capability. If the main mission of these aircraft remains surveillance and intelligence, the carrying of four laser guided bombs GBU-12 provides significant support to the forces. These drones will then be joined next year by Block 5 systems (remember that two systems are expected) which will be able to operate, in addition to the GBU-12, Hellfire air-to-ground missiles and GBU-49. The armed Reaper, to be used in the Sahelian theater, will thus be able to conduct strikes of opportunity and act quickly, when the situation requires it.
However, the Ministry recalls “the rules of engagement for weaponized drones are exactly the same as those for the fighter planes with which they are complementary. These drones will continue to be operated from the theater of the operation concerned, in strict compliance with the law of armed conflict”, while the debate about LAWS (lethal autonomous weapons systems) still goes on. France has established a framework of use in which people are still at the center of the action. In fact, the drone crew, composed of four people (pilot, sensor operator, image operator, tactical coordinator), is directly on the theater.