France has, for the first time, deployed the latest armed drone MQ-9 ‘Block-5’ Reaper in counterterrorism operations in Africa. India is among the countries plagued by terrorism and uses MQ-9 Reaper drones.
On May 14, the latest version of the French Air and Space Force’s MQ-9 Reaper took off from an air base in Niamey, the capital of Niger, according to a statement from the French Defense Ministry.
This was the drone’s first operational sortie in French service, during which it provided support to soldiers of the Bison Desert Tactical Group as part of Operation Barkhane. The anti-terrorism operation was launched against armed militant groups affiliated with Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) in the region of Nokara in Gourma (Burkina Faso).
The mission also helped achieve operational integration milestones with the French armed forces and will also conduct strikes using precision guided munitions in the near future.
The Military Aerial Expertise Center (CEAM) of the Cognac 709 air base had sent a team to the planned air base (BAP) of Niamey to carry out experimental flights for this new system. “We made the flights to Niger directly to speed up the operational commissioning”, explained Lieutenant-Colonel Mathieu, director of the experimentation campaign. “The goal was for Operation Barkhane’s Reaper Squadron to exploit these new capabilities as quickly as possible.”
Battlefields in the Middle East and Africa have always been combat testing and training grounds for major armies around the world.
The press release from the French Ministry of Defense specifies that this “experience” enabled the crews on site to “transform” onto the Reaper Block 5 and to discover its new ergonomics and increased capabilities.
The Reaper Block 5 has improved video quality and connectivity, as well as a stronger weapon capacity, as it will eventually be able to be equipped with both GBU 49 laser-guided bombs and Hellfire missiles.
In another development, the maintenance of this new drone is carried out exclusively by French mechanics.
Interestingly, the French service’s first operational MQ-9 Reaper (Block-1) flight was also flown via Niamey on January 16, 2014, and as of March 31, the French Reapers had accumulated 500 flight hours in support of Operation Serval (military intervention in Mali).
Led by French forces, in partnership with the G5 Sahel countries, Operation Barkhane has continued since 2014. It concerns the main countries of the Sahelo-Saharan strip (BSS): Burkina Faso, Mali, Mauritania, Niger and Chad.
It brings together around 5,100 soldiers whose mission is to fight armed terrorist groups and support the armed forces of partner countries so that they can take this threat into account.
Also known as “Predator-B,” the MQ-9 Reaper is perhaps the most operationally tested hunter-killer drone in the world. It was developed to succeed the MQ-1 “Predator”, being heavier and more efficient in terms of engine, payload capacity and endurance.
It features a 950 hp (712 kW) turboprop (compared to the Predator’s 115 hp (86 kW) piston engine), which allows the Reaper to carry 15 times the payload of ammunition and sail at about three times the speed of the MQ-1.
The system has been exported to many countries including Taiwan and India. Amid the border standoff with the Chinese People’s Liberation Army in the Ladakh region last year, the Indian Navy acquired two MQ-9B SeaGuardian drones from the United States on lease as part of a larger contract for 20 of these drones for its army, navy and air force.