French Air and Space Army wishes to use drones from a transport aircraft

On June 15, 2023, the French Air and Space Army (Armée de l'Air & de l'Espace or AAE) expressed its desire to acquire the capability of deploying and controlling drones from a transport aircraft. This initiative, named "Drone Élongation," aims to explore new possibilities for drone usage beyond traditional offensive objectives.

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French Air and Space Army wishes to use drones from a transport aircraft 925 001 American Tactical Airlifter C-130  (Picture source: DoD of United States )

In recent years, various programs have been launched to enable tactical transport aircraft to deploy and pilot aerial drones, mainly for offensive purposes. Airbus Defence & Space conducted trials using an A400M and a device of the DO-DT 25 type as part of the German initiative "I4FCAS" (Innovations for FCAS - Future Combat Air System). Additionally, the "Gremlins" project, led by the Pentagon's defense agency DARPA, has also explored this innovative technology.

However, the AAE envisions non-offensive applications for this capability. For instance, during an airborne operation (OAP), this technology would allow the crew to survey a specific area before deploying paratroopers or conducting an assault landing.

To solicit interest and participation, the AAE issued a call for expressions of defense interest under the name "Drone Élongation," reaching out to companies and research centers through IDEA3, the technical innovation hub for defense aviation within DGA Techniques Aéronautiques.

According to the program's criteria, the drone must be dropped directly from the ramp or one of the lateral doors located at the rear of the transport aircraft. This operation should be easily feasible and cost-effective, and the drone's total mass, including the release mechanism, should not exceed 225 kg. The drone should have an autonomy of 3 to 4 hours, with the option of being remotely operated either from the carrying aircraft or by a ground operator. The drop can take place at altitudes ranging from 100 to 24,000 feet. The aircraft involved in the project are the C130, A400M, ATL2, F50, and others not specified.

The drone should be reliable and discreet and could be employed in various missions, such as terrain reconnaissance, ground troop support, radio relay, intelligence gathering, and more.

The AAE is not the only interested party in this project; the French Navy is also considering equipping its maritime patrol aircraft, Atlantique 2, and Falcon 50 aircraft with such capabilities. It is evident that this technology offers exciting prospects for future military operations.