French Air Force Reaper drones test laser-guided bombs

French Air Force’s Reaper drones are now able to drop laser-guided bombs and, soon, to launch air-to-ground missiles. They carried out their first experimental fire as part of Operation Barkhane in Niger.

French Air Force Reaper drones test laser guided bombs French MQ-9 Reaper drone (Picture source: Armée de l'air)

France has officially deployed its first armed drones, three American-built Reapers fitted with laser-guided missiles, in its fight against a jihadi insurrection in Africa’s Sahel region, the Defense Minister Florence Parly announced on December 19.

"Their main missions remain surveillance and intelligence … but these can be extended to strikes,” added the Minister.

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 (USAF). 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.

Today, the Air Force has two MALE (Medium Altitude, Long Endurance) and Reaper drone systems, with 3 drones each. One of the systems has been continuously deployed in the Sahel since 2016.

Two additional Reaper systems will be delivered in 2020 . Each drone will have the capacity to carry four 215  kilograms laser guided bombs: the GBU-12, bombs already used by Mirage and Rafale fighter aircraft. The GBU-12 Paveway II is an American aerial laser-guided bomb, based on the Mk 82 500-pound general-purpose bomb, but with the addition of a nose-mounted laser seeker and fins for guidance. A member of the Paveway series of weapons, Paveway II entered into service c. 1976. It is currently in service with the Royal Australian Air Force, Royal Saudi Air Force, U.S. Air Force, US Navy, US Marine Corps, Royal Canadian Air Force, Royal Malaysian Air Force, Philippine Air Force, Colombian Air Force, Swedish Air Force, Singaporean Air Force and various NATO air forces.