Which MALE Drone for the French Forces
Which MALE Drone for the
French Forces ? A Call to Reason
The « decision to choose the
Heron TP drone, without any ITT, is difficult to understand: it is financially
unfavourable, militarily unsound and industrially inexplicable »...
« Even if the U.S. Air Force's selection of Boeing over Airbus for its tanker
programme made it extremely difficult for French senators to call for the
purchase of a U.S. system,» ... « the lack of operational and industrial
sense in the French government's decision to buy the Israeli Heron TP
caused the Senate to vote an amendment to the Draft
2012 Defence Budget Law. « A homeric debate » took place
during the night when senators discussed with the Defense minister the
procurement of a non-French modified package consisting of seven air vehicles,
two ground stations and a 10-years maintenance contract. An overwhelming
bipartisan majority of the French Senate decided, on November 29, 2011, to vote
amendment and cut the amount allocated to UAV acquisition from 318 million
euros ($423.8 million) to 209 million. « In the general interest »
members of the Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Armed Forces explained,
they tried « to separate the operational needs of the Armed Forces from
industrial policy considerations »
... « With this in mind, the senators wanted, in the short term » to give
top priority to the safety of our troops by providing them with
« the best equipment at the best price, in this case, the Reaper
from General Atomics ,
while allowing, in the medium term, the emergence of a » dedicated «
industrial sector by setting aside a larger amount of funds for French and
European companies than that envisaged in the government's industrial plan »
... « The truth is that there is no room for a purely national product line
for only seven drones »
concluded the French senators, who voted the amendment by a show of hands, left and right together,
with thirty-three votes against three. For months, both experts and
the press had been writing that such a decision - the Defence Minister's - might
be due to « some obscure reasons ». This procuring from two foreign
companies, again without any ITT ,
and especially following the two former contracts signed in 1997 and 2001 with
looks « more than suspect ». If no agreement is reached between
the Senate and the National Assembly, experts believe this case might come under
scrutiny of the French courts, following a possible Commission of Inquiry
set up by the Senate's new majority. Four senators, two socialist and two
members of the presidential majority, signed a letter in the leading French
newspaper, Le Monde online edition, dated December 9, 2011 .
Source and courtesy: Le Monde,
Jean-Louis Carrère, chairman, Jacques Gautier ,
Xavier Pintat ,
Daniel Reiner ,
vice-chairmen of the Senate Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Armed
Forces, and co-rapporteurs of Programme 146 "Equipment of Forces".(*)
Joël-François Dumont. Translation © European-Security. Paris, December 9,
As from October 2013, our armed forces will have to cease
operating their Harfang MALE drones. This because, on July 20, 2011, the French
Defence Minister, Gérard Longuet, decided to equip our forces with the Heron TP,
manufactured by the Israeli company IAI and imported by Dassault. This decision
caused a surprise in the Senate. When a State endeavours to equip its forces, it
is expected to do so without bias, in a rational, i.e. measurable way: what cost,
what performance, what industrial leadership ? When possible, these objectives
should be reconciled. If not, they should be ranked by order of preference, the
top priorities going to the safety of the troops and the effectiveness of the
In the Senate, following a long debate, an overwhelming
majority of senators considered that the choice of the Heron TP was not
justified. This was therefore not the formulation of a partisan option, but of
the firm belief that this decision runs against our interests.
It is a fact that it took our Joint Services decision-makers
a lot of soul-searching to come up with their definition of the "operational
requirement" for MALE drones. This was achieved in 2009. Feedback from operating
Harfangs in Afghanistan, comforted by the Libyan experience, shows that we need
fast drones with a long combat range and ample loiter time, equipped with
observation sensors enabling them to perform a good identification of targets.
These drones should carry a mixed-weapons payload enabling them to destroy
targets of opportunity.
Heron TP does not fully meet these requirements. It is large,
slow, and vulnerable to degraded weather conditions. It was designed to fly over
Israel's limited territory in order to listen in and observe its borders. At
present it is not armed, and will never be able to carry a mixed-weapons payload,
due to its structure. Finally, less than ten have been produced, and it is not
technologically achieved. Perfecting its design, adapting it to our operational
requirements, and having it certified by an independent authority will be long
and costly. Furthermore, it will only be available in late 2015 at best.
Conversely, more than 150 Reaper drones have already been
produced by the American manufacturer General Atomics. They are therefore
interoperable with our allies. This drone was designed to be armed, fly fast,
have a long loiter time, and it has proved satisfactory in Afghanistan and
elsewhere for a number of years now. It will be available in late 2013, that is
within a time-frame that will preserve our armed forces from experiencing a
For a same offer (seven drones, two ground stations, no
customization to French requirements), the IAI/Dassault offer reaches 318
million euros, while that of General Atomics stays at 209 million. The
difference: 100 million euros (+ 52 %) has no technical justification. It puts a
useless strain on our public finances.
Dassault proposes to "Frenchify" Heron TP for 50 million
euros. This offer does not seem very credible, knowing that last year a previous
Dassault-IAI offer, for the same configuration, reached 700 million euros.
This drone being "30 % more expensive, 20 % less performing"
as the Defence Minister himself put it, the only justification for buying the
Heron TP could be to create a national industrial product line for drones. This would naturally have the Senate's agreement, providing it serves the general
interest and not only that of the manufacturer. Unfortunately, France has
already bought drones from IAI company on two occasions – the Hunter in 1997 and
the Heron 1 in 2001, the latter Frenchified by EADS to become the Harfang – and
no national product line has ever materialized, despite the 380 million euros
invested by the State and EADS. Would that be solely due to the French engineers'
The truth is that there is no room for a purely national
product line for only seven drones. We must unite. We have already done so with
the British, within the framework of the Lancaster House treaty. And it would be
even better if other Europeans teamed with us in this project, because isolation
is a path we cannot afford to follow any more.
For all these reasons, the Senate has not granted the
proposed budget authority. It has limited the outlay to the sole procurement of
the number of Reapers required to meet, as soon as possible, our forces' needs
in terms of effectiveness and safety. We suggest that the 109 million euros thus
saved be allocated to upstream studies on the Future Combat Drone (nEUROn) and
to the extension, as required, of the Harfang's service life. This is really
preparing the future.
Build French, help the French aeronautical industry, yes, by
all means yes. Buy more expensive, less performing and without competition, to
the benefit of a dead-ended industrial line, no. The financial crisis forces us
to maximize our investments. We call the government to reason.
(*) Jean-Louis Carrère (SP), chairman, Jacques Gautier (UMP),
Xavier Pintat (UMP), Daniel Reiner (SP) vice-chairmen of the Senate Committee on
Foreign Affairs, Defence and Armed Forces, and co-rapporteurs of Programme 146
"Equipment of Forces".
Décision financièrement désavantageuse, militairement contestable et industriellement
hasardeuse in European-Security. Excerpt from the
French Senate's Call: Buy Reaper, Not Heron UAV
in Defense News
General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc.
(GA-ASI) is an affiliate of privately-held General Atomics
 ITT : Invitation to tender.
Aerospace Industries Ltd.
Drones : le mauvais choix du gouvernement français in
Le Monde, December 9, 2011
Le choix du Héron TP totalement israélien ne profitera pas à Dassault-Thales
Faire des choix guidés par des principes en veillant à la cohérence d'ensemble
du format des armées in European-Security
Le marteau-tournevis n’existe pas !
Gérard Longuet : « Un seul pays maîtrise la technologie des drones »
Debate excerpts :
Official Documents :
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