The French Air Force’s two MQ-9 Reaper UAVs deployed to Mali have accumulated 2 000 flight hours less than ten months after being deployed to the North African country.
The milestone was reached on October 30, according to the French Air Force. The first French Reapers began flying from Mali on January 16 this year to support French operations in Mali and Niger, namely Operation Serval and then Operation Barkhane.
The Reapers, the first of 12 for the French Air Force, are based in Niger’s capital Niamey, and belong to Drone Squadron 1/33 Belfort. Delivery of the first two MQ-9As was expedited due to urgent need for them for Operation Serval. The remaining Reapers will only be delivered in 2015 or 2016.
Although the General Atomics MQ-9 Reaper can be armed, France has chosen not to arm its aircraft and is instead using its optical and radar sensors to detect targets of interest across the Sahel and Sahara.
The Reapers are complementing the Harfang UAVs that are already operating in various theatres – France has deployed EADS Harfangs to Niger since January 17, 2013, in support of operations in neighbouring Mali and these have logged several thousand flight hours.
About 3 000 French soldiers are currently deployed on Malian soil, where they are tasked with pacifying armed terrorist groups and supporting the UN MINUSMA peacekeeping operation and Malian forces.
For Operation Barkhane, launched on August 1, 2014, France has deployed 3 000 troops, twenty helicopters, 200 logistics vehicles, 200 armoured vehicles, six fighter aircraft, 3 UAVs and ten transport aircraft to Africa for operations in countries like Mauritania, Mali, Niger, Chad and Burkina Faso.