UPI reports that France will soon be deciding whether to buy medium altitude, long endurance surveillance drones.
The choice will likely come down to the US Predator drone, or the Israel Hermes drone, perhaps in its ‘Watchkeeper’ incarnation. But ‘Watchkeeper’ has been substantially delayed, and is now long past its original delivery date.
Does this mean that the French will be force to buy an American Predator drone which is immediately available? Is this a lost sale for the UK Watchkeeper drone, in a year when the Cameron government has said it plans to increase arms sales? Does it represent a possible shift away from Israel by the French government, which was embarrassed by the Israeli attacks on Gaza, the killings on the peace boat, the continued blockade of Gaza, and the resumption of settlement building? The Sarkozy government has been a strong supporter of Israel, but like other Israeli friends, has been badly let down.
UPI suggests that Watchkeeper is a joint venture between France and the UK, since it is produced in the UK by a French company Thales, working with Elbit Systems of Israel. (I haven’t previously noted any information that the Watchkeeper project was consciously a joint venture between the British and French governments).
Previously the role of medium altitude long endurance drones has been filled by ‘Harfang’ drones, of which two are deployed in Afghanstan, one in France, and one is being repaired in Israel. The Harfang drone is a variation of the Heron drone built by Israel Aerospace Industries.