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France’s Block 5 Reapers reach FOC after first operational airstrike

French Block 5 Reaper with GBU-12 bombs
French Air Force photo of a Block 5 Reaper with GBU-12 bombs

The French Air Force’s Block 5 MQ-9 Reaper unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) have reached full operational capability after completing the first operational airstrike earlier this month.

On August 17, a Block 5 Reaper launched a laser-guided GBU-12 bomb during a sortie as part of France’s operation Barkhane in northern Africa.

The Block 5 version of the UAV offers more powerful intelligence, surveillance and recognition (ISR) sensors and introduces more kinetic capabilities. The French Air Force currently operates six Block 1 and an equal number of Block 5 Reapers. It is also buying an additional Block 5 airframes.

The August 17 qualification trial followed an experimental campaign from March to May 2021, which had the objective to test the new Block 5 system in an operational context. A second campaign took place at the end of July in order to test the UAV’s capability of carrying and launching GBU-12 bombs.

France also plans to carry out validation tests for the Block 5 Reapers to carry and employ GBU-49 bombs and Hellfire missiles.

The Reaper has an endurance of over 27 hours and a payload capacity of 1746 kilograms. Its exterior payload capacity is 1361 kilograms, which means that the UAV can carry up to four GBU-12 bombs.