France’s Ministry of Armed Forces reported a General Atomics MQ-9 Reaper Block 5 drone of the French Air and Space Force dropped a GBU-12 laser-guided bomb for the first time as part of Operation Barkhane in the Sahel region on August 17, 2021.
This first airstrike in operational conditions marks a new milestone in the drone reaching full operational capability with the French armed forces. The next milestones will be reached once the drone uses the GBU-49 bomb and the Hellfire missile.
“The Reaper Block 5 makes it possible to obtain better synergy between the crews and increased coordination between the various players, especially during the shooting passes,” explains Lieutenant-Colonel Mathieu, director of the experimentation campaign. “The ergonomics of the system are simplified, which brings significant added value to operations, as currently in Sahelo-Saharan region.”
General Atomics was awarded a $123 million procurement contract for six MQ-9 Reapers in their latest Block 5 version on August 23, 2018. The last two were delivered in 2020, and deployed in the Niamey airbase, in Niger.
France ordered another 6 Reapers in July 2021, plus the retrofit of 6 Reaper Block 1 that were acquired in 2014.
The critical role of the drones in Operation Barkhane was recently highlighted in a report of the French Senate, which stated that the French Reaper provided 58% of airstrikes in the Sahel against 29% for the Dassault Mirage 2000s and 13% for the Army’s Airbus Tiger attack helicopters.