First French MQ-9 Reaper crash on record
A medium-altitude long-endurance (MALE) MQ-9 Reaper drone of the French Air Force crashed near Niamey, Niger, on November 17, 2018. The UAV was on its way back from a mission in Mali.
According to the French Army Staff, the drone crashed in a desert area near the Niamey Air Base runway, without harming anyone. An investigation was opened to identify the reasons of the crash. Its operator reported lost contact with the drone.
In January 2014, six MQ-9 Reaper Block 1 UAVs were acquired at €75 million (approximately $86 million) per unit by the French military.
Four (including the one that crashed) are engaged in Mali and have been used for more than 23.000 hours by the French Air Force, carrying surveillance and reconnaissance missions. The other two are assigned to Cognac-Châteaubernard Air Base, France. This is the first accident affecting a French Reaper.
On August 23, 2018, the U.S. Department of Defense announced that General Atomics was awarded a $123 million procurement contract for six additional MQ-9 Reapers in their latest Block 5 version. They should be delivered to the French Air Force by May 1, 2020. Additionally, the French Army is looking into arming its Reapers, which are currently only capable of surveillance mission. The weapon systems are expected to be delivered between 2019 and 2020.
With the retirement in January 2018 of the MALE Harfang UAV, developed by Airbus and Israel Aerospace Industries, the U.S.-made MQ-9 Reaper became essential to the French operations, while awaiting for the development of the MALE Remotely Piloted Aircraft System (RPAS) also known as the “Eurodrone“. This new system that should also equip Italian and German forces is expected to enter service by 2025.