France has, for the first time, deployed the latest MQ-9 ‘Block-5’ Reaper armed drone in counterterror operations in Africa. India is among the countries that is plagued by terrorism and uses MQ-9 Reaper drones.
On May 14, the latest version of the MQ-9 Reaper of the French Air & Space Force took off from an airbase in Niamey, Niger’s capital city, according to a French Defense Ministry statement.
This was the drone’s first operational sortie in the French service, during which it provided support to the soldiers of Bison Desert Tactical Group under ‘Operation Barkhane’. The counter-terror operation was launched against armed militant groups affiliated with Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) in the Nokara region of Gourma (Burkina Faso).
The mission was also helpful in gaining steps for operational integration with the French Armed Forces and would also carry out strikes using precision-guided munitions in the near future.
The Military Air Expertise Center (CEAM) at Cognac 709 airbase had sent a team to the Projected Air Base (BAP) in Niamey to carry out experimental flights for this new system. “We carried out the flights in 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 harness these new capabilities as quickly as possible.”
The battlefields in the Middle East and Africa have always been combat-testing and training grounds for major militaries globally.
The press release by the French Defense Ministry stated that this “experiment” allowed the crews on-site to be “transformed” on the Reaper Block 5 and to discover its new ergonomics and its increased capabilities.
The Reaper block 5 has improved video quality and connectivity, as well as a stronger weapon capacity since 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 exclusively provided by French mechanics.
Interestingly, the first MQ-9 Reaper (Block-1) operational flight in the French service was also conducted via Niamey, on January 16, 2014, and by March 31, the French Reapers had accumulated 500 flight hours in support of Operation Serval (military intervention in Mali).
Led by the French forces, in partnership with the G5 Sahel countries, Operation Barkhane has been going on since 2014. It involves the main countries of the Sahel-Saharan strip (BSS): Burkina Faso, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, and Chad.
It brings together around 5,100 soldiers whose mission is to fight against armed terrorist groups and to support the armed forces of partner countries so that they can take this threat into account.
Also known as the “Predator-B”, the MQ-9 Reaper is perhaps the most operationally tested hunter-killer drone in the world. It was developed as a successor to the MQ-1 ‘Predator’, being heavier and more capable in terms of engine, payload capacity, and endurance.
It has a 950-shaft-horsepower (712 kW) turboprop engine (compared to the Predator’s 115 hp (86 kW) piston engine), that allows the Reaper to carry 15 times more ordnance payload and cruise 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 China’s People’s Liberation Army in the Ladakh region last year, the Indian Navy acquired two MQ-9B SeaGuardian UAVs from the United States on lease under a wider contract for 20 such drones for its Army, Navy and the Air Force.