France deploys Harfang UAV over Libya


France’s Harfang medium altitude long endurance unmanned aerial vehicle has been deployed in operations over Libya, the French ministry of defence has announced.

The Harfang completed its first operational flight last Wednesday, taking off from Sigonella air base in Sicily in the middle of the night. According to the French Ministry of Defence, the Harfang has been deployed to Sigonella since August 18, but only carried out its first operational sortie last week in support of Operation Harmattan (the codename for France’s contribution to Operation Unified Protector).

Approximately 20 people are tasked with operating and maintaining the UAV, which can fly for more than 15 hours a day. Its surveillance and reconnaissance equipment allow sit to carry out both day and night flights.

In addition to the Harfang, France has five Dassault Rafales equipped with reconnaissance pods for monitoring Muammar Gaddafi’s collapsing regime. In addition, France has deployed special forces to equip and train the rebels.

The EADS/IAI Harfang is a derivative of the IAI Heron and was first flown in September 2006 and entered service in 2008. The French Air Force initially ordered three aircraft and two ground control stations, but a fourth aircraft and third ground station were added in December 2009. In addition to Libya, the Harfang has been deployed to Afghanistan.

The Harfang has an endurance of 24 hours and can carry a 250 kg payload at a height of 7500 metres. Its surveillance equipment includes electro-optical and infrared sensors, a synthetic aperture radar and a laser designator/rangefinder. Data is transferred instantaneously to the ground station via line-of-sight or satellite communications links.

The Harfang was intended as an interim UAV and has experienced a number of problems, including issues with the satellite communications link and contractor support. Last month France selected the Heron-TP to replace the Harfang.