The French Reaper unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) gained its first weapons capability during a firing campaign from Niamey airbase in Niger on 15-17 December. Four evaluation drops were conducted from Niamey as part of the 'Barkhane' operation.
The short firing campaign was preceded by ground training in Niamey to ensure that the equipment and procedures were suitable for local conditions in the Sahel region. French armourers received training from their US colleagues on the installation and removal of GBU-12 laser-guided bombs on and from the Reaper. Several simulated drops were also conducted from Niamey and Cognac airbases, the latter the home base of the 1/33 Belfort UAV squadron, to train in procedures.
The firing campaign started on 15 December on a range north of Gao in a desert environment.
The first drop was made in fully automatic mode, with the Reaper designating the target and automatically computing the launch time based on its altitude and speed. The second drop took place on 16 December with manual control. The third flight on 17 December resulted in the simultaneous firing of two GBU-12s on two different targets. The first target was designated by the UAV itself and the second by another Reaper orbiting nearby. All drops were successful, according to the French Air Force.
France operates three Reaper block 1 UAVs from Niamey and two more from Cognac. So far only the Niamey-based UAVs have wiring and wing pylons for the GBUs, to be followed by the Cognac-based Reapers in early 2020.
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