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France to tack weapons onto spy drones – reports

Reapers currently used solely for surveillance

France is fitting weapons to its fleet of reconnaissance drones, according to reports.

French defence minister Florence Parly said the EU nation's six Reaper drones would equipped with weapons, though she did not specify precisely what weapons, by 2020.

The drone fleet is reportedly deployed in northwest Africa, being used in surveillance operations against Islamist terrorists in the region.

General Atomics Reaper drones are used by a number of nations, including the US and UK, for surveillance and strike (bombing) missions. Last year the Royal Air Force announced that it was rebranding the unmanned aerial vehicles as Protectors, to shake off the negative connotations of the Reaper name.

"Arming the drones will give them 'endurance, discretion, surveillance and strike capability at the right place and the right moment," she said in a speech in the southeastern city of Toulon," as the American Associated Press newspaper reported.

France's Reapers appear to be very similar to the models deployed by the UK and the US, meaning they could be fitted with Hellfire anti-tank missiles. It is also possible that French-owned missile firm MBDA will want to integrate its weapons with the Reaper platform over time.

France is reportedly expecting delivery of a further six drones, bringing its Reaper fleet up to 12, by 2019. These will be delivered already armed with Hellfire missiles.

The AP also reported that the EU nations of Germany, France, Spain and Italy are working on a so-called European drone. This comes as part of the general EU trend to rely less on the US-led NATO alliance for defence matters.

British Reaper drone operations are carried out remotely from RAF Warrington and from US Air Force Base Creech, in Nevada. Critics have pointed out that this reduces the killing of human beings to a mechanised process carried out through a screen and a controller, much like a video game. ®

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