“I decided to begin the process of arming our intelligence and surveillance drones,” Defence Minister Florence Parly told a gathering of recruits and lawmakers in the southern port city of Toulon.
France currently operates a handful of unarmed Reaper drones as part of its presence monitoring jihadist groups in Africa's Sahel region.
Parly said the military planned to equip six unmanned aerial vehicles purchased from the United States with “precision guided” weaponry from 2019.
The drones will “pose a permanent threat to armed terrorist groups” in the areas where the French military operates, she said.
“This decision doesn't change the rules on the use of armed force. The rules of engagement for armed drones will be absolutely identical to those already applied,” Parly added.
Several countries including the United States, Israel, Italy and Britain have operational armed drones.
The weapons are widely used in the conflicts in Yemen, Syria and Iraq, as well as in Somalia, Afghanistan and Pakistan.