Medium Altitude, Long Endurance (MALE) Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV)
Based on the Israeli Heron, the French EADS Harfang UAV have already seen considerable service over Afghanistan, Libya and Mali.
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As with many other European powers, the French have fielded only a limited fleet of UAV (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles) systems to date with a few indigenous, in-development products still in the works. In 1995, the French Air Force committed to the Israeli-born IAI (Israel Aerospace Industries) RQ-5 "Hunter", a prop-driven, unarmed data-collecting air vehicle also endorsed by the United States military. Finding its services useful, French Air Force interest piqued when IAI unveiled its popular "Heron" during 1999. The Heron went on to stock the inventories of several military powers including Israel, India, Germany, Brazil and Turkey. The French Air Force then selected the Heron as its next UAV commitment and, with help from IAI, developed a customized Heron-based solution that became the EADS-sponsored "Harfang". First flight of the new vehicle was on September 9th, 2006 with an introduction in June of 2008. Only four units were procured in all.
The Harfang is categorized as a "Medium-Altitude, Long-Endurance" (MALE) UAV giving it the necessary altitude and range capabilities required for French Air Force operations. As with other UAVs of this class, the Harfang is a remotely-controlled offering utilizing a Ground Control Station (GCS) driven by an operator. The Harfang features a centralized fuselage nacelle housing avionics, mission payload, engine and fuel while its wheeled undercarriage restrict operations to prepared surfaces such as runways. Unlike American Predator UAVs (and similar), the Harfang is not armed and instead used for the reconnaissance/data-collecting role through specialized equipment fitted to the belly/chin areas. This very useful information garnered is then interpreted by ground commanders. The Harfang has a twin-boom configuration with straight wing appendages, very similar in form and function as the Heron while power is served through a single Rotax 914 F series turbocharged engine driving a two-bladed propeller in a "pusher" configuration at the rear of the fuselage nacelle.
Manufactured by Malat of Israel, the Harfang is managed through EADS in France.
The Harfang's first notable service was in 2007 where it provided security for the Pope's visit to France. It was then deployed in the Afghanistan Theater in support of the French commitment. Harfangs were also in play during the 2011 Libyan Civil War and have been pressed into service most recently with the French military over Mali against Islamic radicals - driving home the need for more capable UAV systems in the French inventory.
It is said that, as of 2013, the French Air Force has moved to procuring the armed General Atomics MQ-9 "Reaper" series of originating in the United States to replace the outgoing fleet of Harfangs. Training of French Reaper pilots began in late 2013 and the first vehicles have already been delivered to French forces. The Harfangs may then, in turn, be sold to the Moroccan Air Force for extended service lives.