This week Agence France Press reported that France would like to buy US Predator drones. The US has used Predator drones for surveillance and to assassinate enemies in widely separated parts of the world, and apparently supported France with Predator drones in France’s incursion into Mali.
La Tribune has reported that in order to bypass the US debate about armed drones, France might want to purchase unarmed Predators initially, then add armed drones in a few years time. La Tribune also noted there is a French debate about whether it is worth it to continue with a domestic European drone programme, when export possibilities are limited by France’s participation in the Missile Technology Control Regime. As a member of MTCR, France would only be able to export to specific countries, under specific conditions. (Israel, the world’s second major drone producer after the US, is not a member of MTCR, and is therefore not limited by its provisions).
Last year France agreed to consider purchasing Watchkeeper ‘MALE’* drones from UTacS, the Franco-Israeli consortium contracted by UK MOD to produce 54 of the drones. The UK would like to sell some Watchkeeper drones, (the programme was in part justified by the potential of export sales) and a Watchkeeper purchase would benefit Thales, the French partner in the consortium. But Watchkeeper is almost three years late, and the decision by France to consider Watchkeeper smacks more of a wish to appear patriotic, as well as placate its defense partner Britain, than any genuine desire to buy the troubled British drone.
*Medium Altitude Long Endurance