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09:31 AM, July 1, 2013

France plans to buy as many as 16 MQ-9 Reaper remotely piloted aircraft, Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA) officials told Congress.

The Reapers are included in a potentially $1.5 billion Foreign Military Sales package of vehicles, ground stations, training, spares and logistical support for the possible sale to the French Air Force, the DSCA officials said on Thursday.

The requirement, at least in the near term, is expected to number around 12 Reapers, with the first two delivered within months to urgently bolster surveillance capabilities in Mali, where France intervened earlier this year.

DSCA officials said the possible package also included eight mobile ground stations, 24 satellite earth terminal substations, 48 Honeywell turboprop engines, 40 General Atomics Lynx radars and a raft of other supporting systems.

Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) has been competing to supply its remotely piloted Heron aircraft to France and last week submitted a new offer in a last-ditch effort to save the deal going the way of the General Atomics-built Reaper.

The French Air Force presently operates just four Harfang medium-altitudes, long-endurance (MALE) platforms derived from the Heron.

Earlier this week, General Atomics launched a company-funded research and development effort to enable the remotely piloted vehicle to meet NATO and European airworthiness standard.

Neal Blue, General Atomics chairman and CEO, said the company had taken the move because, “It is imperative that we ensure airworthiness certification of Predator B [Reaper] at home and abroad as coalition forces withdraw from Afghanistan and nations transition mission focus to protection of the homeland and other civil uses.”

The General Atomics move comes hard on the heels of a controversial decision by Germany to cancel a major Global Hawk deal with Northrop Grumman due to certification difficulties, according to Defense News.

The Reaper’s threatened dominance of the European MALE market was partly responsible for triggering a public letter from Dassault Aviation, EADS Cassidian and Finmeccanica to governments in the region urging them to collaborate in developing a rival platform.

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