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For the first time drones have the French air force carried out armed tests. The French Air Force Base Niamey in Niger, where the unmanned aircraft pilots and their servers are stationed, have the French forces of "Operation Barkhane" armed drones started. So far, the drones were there only used for reconnaissance. To validate the excess capacity of the drones, in December 2019 three successful test missions were carried out in which guided bombs have been used successfully by French MQ-9 Reaper.

The first trial flight was on 15 December 2019 performed (Video: MoD France)

In a press statement of 19 December, the French Defense Minister Florence Parly announced: "The armed drones on the ground greatly improve the safety of our soldiers and strengthen our resources in the face of an increasingly difficult tangible enemy." The minister added: "Armed UAVs have several advantages, including its stealth, endurance and the ability of our armed forces more quickly and to respond more effectively and to decide".

The armed drones are already available in the coming days the armed forces of "Operation Barkhane" available, the French Defense Ministry announced, without giving a specific date. Currently, the French UAVs are used for reconnaissance. Your weapons permits to carry out air strikes and thus to dispense with the costly and risky use of a patrol of combat aircraft or helicopters. However, according to Defense Department there is no question that the drones can operate autonomously. "France's position is clear: the decision to use a weapon, must be a human decision" shall be communicated by the Ministry, regardless of "whether in educating, evaluating the goals and especially when deciding on the use."

However, for France, the new military capability means no change in military doctrine. To let the defense minister Parly say: "The rules of engagement for armed UAVs are exactly the same as those for combat aircraft," said Parly. "These drones continue to be operated in the operational area of ​​the operation concerned in strict compliance with the law on armed conflict," the press release of the Minister adds that had announced the arming of French drones already in a speech late 2017th

The French MQ-9 Reaper are capable of up to four 250-kg laser-guided bombs - the GBU-12 - use. (Photo: MoD France)

The drones Class MALE (medium altitude, long endurance), which are currently used in the "Operation Barkhane" to fight Islamist terror groups are American MQ-9 Reaper drones from General Atomics Aeronautical Systems. The French air force has two systems each with three UAVs, one of which is permanently stationed in Niamey. Two other systems are to be delivered in early 2020th "Every drone will have the capacity to four 250-kg laser-guided bombs - the GBU-12 - to wear, which are already used by fighter aircraft," says the ministry, pointing out that the new Reaper Block 5 standard, it will allow the French forces and, from the end of 2020 Hellfire air-to-ground missiles and fire from 2021 GBU-49 bombs.

Christian Kanig