France has deployed two additional MQ-9 Reaper drones to Niamey, Niger received from General Atomics in support of the country's Operation in the Sahel region.
The UAVs arrived at Base Aérienne 101 in Niamey, Niger, at the end of 2016 where the Escadron de Drone 1/33 Belfort has been operating three other MQ-9s since January 2015 in support of the country's Operation 'Barkhane' in the Sahel region, a French military source was quoted as saying by IHS Jane's Tuesday.
The French Air Force has withdrawn its two Harfang drones from Niamey with the arrival of Reapers. The two Reapers will be declared operational after they are reassembled and tested on the ground and in flight.
Due to technical and legal constraints, the Belfort squadron has been unable to fly its Reapers in French national airspace. However, this situation is expected to change with the arrival of a sixth Reaper and a control shelter in Cognac, the home base of 1/33 Squadron, later in January. This sixth UAV will be used for training at Cognac. Up until this point, the squadron has had to do all it’s training from Niamey, the news weekly reported.
Another important milestone for the French Reaper force was reached at the end of December 2016 when a first French crew was authorised to perform take-offs and landings of the UAV. Until now civilian contractors from General Atomics have been conducting French take-offs and landings.