France has received an additional two General Atomics MQ-9 Reaper unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and deployed them to Africa, a French military source told IHS Jane's.
The UAVs arrived at Base Aérienne 101 in Niamey, Niger, at the end of 2016 where the Escadron de Drone 1/33 Belfort has been operating three other MQ-9s since January 2015 in support of the country's Operation 'Barkhane' in the Sahel region.
It will take a few weeks before the two new Reapers will be declared fully operational as they will have to be reassembled, and tested on the ground and in flight. The arrival of the UAVs has resulted in the French Air Force withdrawing its two Harfang UAVs from Niamey back to France. Harfangs are now mostly used for training and surveillance during high profile public events.
Due to technical and legal constraints, the Belfort squadron has been unable to fly its Reapers in French national airspace. However, this situation is expected to change with the arrival of a sixth Reaper and a control shelter in Cognac, the home base of 1/33 Squadron, later in January. This sixth UAV will be used for training at Cognac. Up until this point, the squadron has had to do all its training from Niamey.
Another important milestone for the French Reaper force was reached at the end of December 2016 when a first French crew was authorised to perform take-offs and landings of the UAV. Until now civilian contractors from General Atomics have been conducting French take-offs and landings
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