France mulls purchase of US drones: source

France is considering buying US-made unarmed Reaper surveillance drones to boost its military capabilities, a source in the defence ministry told AFP on Friday.

France mulls purchase of US drones: source
An MQ-9 Reaper in flight. Photo: US Air Force/Wikimedia

France's deficit of surveillance drones was highlighted during its recent intervention against Islamist rebels in Mali, where the United States deployed several Predator drones in support of French forces.

"A letter has been sent to Washington to evaluate the feasibility" of France purchasing drones, the source said. "It does not commit France, it is part of a reflection on the possibility."

French newspaper La Tribune reported Friday that Paris had made an official request to Washington to acquire Reaper drones and customise them for use by French forces. The drones could later be adapted to include weapons systems, it wrote.

Predator and Reaper drones are widely used by the US military and known as the weapon of choice in a covert CIA air war against Al-Qaeda militants mostly in Pakistan and Yemen.

European nations including France are developing their own unmanned combat drone, known as the Neuron, which flew its maiden test flight in December but is not expected to be operational for several years.

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France recruits 1,800 extra staff to cyber warfare unit

The French defence ministry on Wednesday announced plans to significantly boost the country's four-year-old cyber warfare force, citing the "growing number and gravity" of hacking attacks on the country.

France recruits 1,800 extra staff to cyber warfare unit
French defence minister Florence Parly. Photo: Alain Jocard/AFP

The government had already planned to add an additional 1,100 recruits to a unit created in response to the growing number of cyber attacks on the West, mostly blamed on Russia and China.

Defence Minister Florence Parly told a cyber security conference in the city of Lille on Wednesday she had decided to go further to try make France “a cyber security champion”.

Warning of a “Cold War in cyberspace” she said she would hire an extra 770 cyber combattants on top of an additional 1,100 already planned, bringing the force’s staffing level to 5,000 by 2025.

France and other Western countries are alarmed over a growing number of increasingly aggressive cyber attacks, including data breaches and ransomware attacks, which typically see hackers encrypting victims’ data and then demanding money for restored access.

Recent high-profile targets have included a US oil pipeline, Ireland’s health service and India’s flag carrier Air India.

Parly said that the French army needed to increase it use of the “cyber weapon”.

“Our opponents do not shy away from doing so, whether state powers, terrorist groups or their backers,” she said.