General Atomics awarded contract for French MQ-9 Reaper UAVs

General Atomics Aeronautical Systems has been awarded a not-to-exceed $27,790,850 amended undefinitized contract action for the France MQ-9 Block 5 weaponization and Foreign Military Sales (FMS) Pod integration effort.

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General Atomics awarded contract for French MQ 9 Reaper UAVs French MQ-9 Reaper operated in Sahel in the framework of Operation Barkhane against terrorist groups (Picture source: French MoD)

This contract provides for the weaponization of the French Air Force MQ-9 Block 5 aircraft and integration of the FMS Pod onto the French Air Force MQ-9 Block 5 aircraft. Work will be performed in Poway, California, and is expected to be completed Sept. 30, 2021. This contract involves 100% FMS to France. Foreign Military Sales funds in the amount of $4,862,088 are being obligated at the time of award. Air Force Life Cycle Management Center, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, is the contracting activity.

The General Atomics MQ-9 Reaper (sometimes called Predator B) is an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) capable of remotely controlled or autonomous flight operations developed by General Atomics Aeronautical Systems (GA-ASI) primarily for the United States Air Force. The MQ-9 and other UAVs are referred to as Remotely Piloted Vehicles/Aircraft (RPV/RPA) by the USAF to indicate their human ground controllers. The MQ-9 is the first hunter-killer UAV designed for long-endurance, high-altitude surveillance. In 2006, the then–Chief of Staff of the United States Air Force General T. Michael Moseley said: "We've moved from using UAVs primarily in intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance roles before Operation Iraqi Freedom, to a true hunter-killer role with the Reaper."

On 31 May 2013, French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian confirmed the order of two MQ-9 Reapers, to be delivered by the end of 2013. It was chosen to replace the EADS Harfang and was picked over the Israeli Heron TP. On 27 June 2013, the U.S. Defense Security Cooperation Agency notified Congress of a possible Foreign Military Sale to France for 16 unarmed MQ-9s, associated equipment, ground control hardware, and support, worth up to $1.5 billion total. On 26 August 2013, France and the US Department of Defense concluded the deal for 16 Reapers and 8 ground control stations, with French operators beginning training.

On 24 September 2013, France's first pair of MQ-9 pilots conducted a two-hour training sortie at Holloman Air Force Base, New Mexico. Both French pilots had prior UAV experience and went through a five-week ground-based training course and 5 hours on a flight simulator before the first flight. Two additional crews were also receiving instruction at the facility. General Atomics is due to deliver two Reapers and one ground control station to the French Air Force by the end of 2013.[102] On 26 November 2013, France declared that six pilots in three teams were operational, following 100 hours on flight simulators and 4 flights. French MQ-9s were first put into action in January 2014 at Niamey Air Base in Niger for border reconnaissance in the Sahel desert.

On 16 January 2014, France's first MQ-9 flight occurred from Niger. The first two Reapers to enter French service are designated Block 1 and use U.S. equipment; further orders are to be modified with European payloads such as sensors and datalinks. On 31 March 2014, French Air Force Reapers accumulated 500 flight hours in support of Operation Serval. In July 2014, a French MQ-9 helped to locate the wreckage of Air Algérie Flight 5017, which had crashed in Mali. The drone lost in the Sahel in November 2018 was replaced by a Reaper rented for two years from General Atomics Aeronautical Systems for the annual sum of $ 1. The MQ-9 Block 1 retrofit is scheduled for the 2021-2023 period. In Operation Barkhane (Sahel), the Reapers are perated by the 1/33 Belfort squadron.