The French Air Force received its third Reaper unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), on 7 May, which was then deployed directly to Niamey in Niger with France’s Barkhane Force.
The French Air Force said the third Reaper supplements the existing French drone squadron, composed of two Harfang UAVs and two Reaper UAVs, operated by the 1/33 “Belfort” drone squadron stationed in Cognac.
Since their arrival in theatre, the Reapers have logged more than 4,000 flying hours. The MQ-9 Reaper arrived in the Sahel-Saharan theatre in December 2013 where they have demonstrated their usefulness and performance by achieving all operations and intelligence in support of the Barkhane Force, according to the French Air Force. Complementary to other air assets, the aircraft provides aerial overwatch for periods of up to nearly 24 hours.
The Reapers began flying from Mali in January 2014 and had accumulated 2 000 hours by the end of October that year.
France has 12 Reapers on order. Delivery of the first two MQ-9As was expedited due to urgent need for them for Operation Serval (which later morphed into Barkhane). The remaining Reapers will only be delivered in 2015/2016.
Although the General Atomics MQ-9 Reaper can be armed, France has chosen not to do so and is instead using its optical and radar sensors to detect targets of interest across the Sahel and Sahara.
Operation Barkhane, launched in August 2014, includes 3 000 troops whose mission, in partnership with the countries of the Sahel G5, is to combat armed terrorist groups in the Sahel-Sahara region. France has also deployed some twenty helicopters, 200 logistics vehicles, 200 armoured vehicles, six fighter aircraft and ten transport aircraft to Africa for operations in countries like Mauritania, Mali, Niger, Chad and Burkina Faso.