In order of coping with expanding air vehicle inventory, the French Air Force is introducing
a new UAV pilot training. The French Air Force is planning to have 24 MQ-9 Reaper MALE UAVs
operational by 2030, generating a requirement for 80 to 100 crews. To cope with this expansion the service will establish a new course into its flying schools. Students will fly the Cirrus light aircraft
and the Grob 120
basic trainer before moving on UAV Operational Conversion Squadron and the 1/33 Belfort to acquire the particular tactical know-how required to operate the Reapers. The MQ-9 Reapers are remotely piloted vehicles and the first hunter-killer UAVs designed for long-endurance, high-altitude surveillance. Up until now the 1/33 Belfort UAV Squadron flew five GA-ASI MQ-9 Reapers. The first two Reapers to enter French service are designated Block 1 and use US equipment.
France is wondering what to do about its next high-end UAV buy. They bought mini-UAVs off the shelf, but turned to a build-in-partnership approach for their current set of Predator-class Medium Altitude, Long Endurance (MALE) machines. That sacrificed some fielding speed and cost more, in order to build the industrial capabilities of key French firms. Unfortunately, their Harfang/ SIDM IUAV Program to field an IAI Heron derivative hit some snags. Harfangs have been very useful in several conflicts now, but the fleet isn’t keeping up with France’s growing land and naval needs. Which leads to the question: what’s next?
The answers to that question remain unclear, several years after French efforts began. What is becoming clear is that France needs UAVs of this type. By mid-2013 a request for MQ-9s came. Will it be more than a stopgap?