France has 12 MQ-9 Reapers drones in service and is currently in the process of acquiring six additional Reapers. In January 2020, it was reported that three EADS Harfang drones (modified Heron drones) previously operated by the French Air Force have been transferred to Morocco. In January 2021, France also ordered 300 microdrones from Parrot for reconnaissance and intelligence missions. The Reaper drones were first deployed during Operation Serval, a mission launched to assist the Malian government in its efforts to fight insurgents.

The Reapers were again deployed in the subsequent Operation Barkhane (2014), which covered the Sahel region in Northern Africa. On the 5th of September 2017, French Minister of the Armed Forces, Florence Parly, announced the decision to arm French surveillance drones, beginning with the Medium-Altitude Long-Endurance (MALE) MQ-9 Reapers operated by the Air Force 1/33 Belfort Drone Squadron. However, the French Ministry of Defense has not clarified which legal criteria will be applied in the deployment of these drones. Notably, there has been little public debate around French armed drone operations

In December 2019, France launched its first drone attack in Mali. Since then, France has carried out air strikes several times with its drones. These strikes are reported on the website of the Ministry of Defence. In January 2021, France carried out several airstrikes in Bounti, Mali. The French government initially claimed these strikes had attacked an armed ”terrorist group”. UN investigations that followed, however, concluded the airstrikes had hit a wedding party, with 19 civilians killed. While the strikes were carried out by French Mirage 2000 fighter aircrafts, targeting decisions were based on an Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) mission conducted by French Reaper drones.

Besides acquiring, arming and deploying its drone fleet, France is also actively collaborating with other EU member states, within the ‘Drones Users Club’ and the ‘Joint Users Club’ of MQ-9 Reapers. In addition, France is collaborating with Germany and Italy to develop a European Medium-Altitude, Long-Endurance drone to decrease its dependence on the United States and Israel as drone producers. Furthermore, French Aerospace manufacturer Dassault has taken the lead in developing the nEUROn (an experimental combat drone) which has joined together with British BAE Systems on the Future Combat Air System (FCAS) project. Additionally, in July 2017, France and Germany announced their agreement to ‘jointly develop a future combat air system’.

Last updated: 18 November 2021

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