The Reaper unmanned aircraft system has experienced a fast development since 2014 within the 33rd Surveillance, Reconnaissance and Attack Wing (ESRA), established in September 2019 at the Air Base 709 "Commandant Ménard" at Cognac-Châteaubernard airport.
On October 12, during a military ceremony commanded Major Gen. Christophe Vuillemin, second in command of the Air Forces Command (CFA), the 33rd ESRA officially marked the assumption of the traditions of its second operational drone squadron, the “2/33 Savoie” and the standing up of the Aeronautical Technical Support Squadron (ESTA) 15,033 Cognac.
This ceremony fully underlines the desire to strengthen the real-time intelligence capabilities of the Air and Space Force, as required by the Military Program Law (LPM) 2019-2025, as well as the increasing autonomy and flexibility that this provides to French aviators in this segment.
The security context and the threats that the forces face on a daily basis in foreign theaters of operations explain the strong increase in the activity of Medium Altitude and Long Endurance (MALE) drones, which is why the increase in personnel and autonomy of the 33rd ESRA has become a necessity.
Consequently, the mechanics of ESTA 15.033 Cognac will carry out all maintenance operations for the Block 5 systems, and the 2/33 Savoie drone squadron will reinforce the current squadrons to ensure the build-up and operational preparation of the crews in order to respond to the strong operational demand.
The first of the two Reaper Block 5 systems received in Cognac will be followed in November by the second system and will thus mark a new, decisive milestone for the 33rd ESRA, through a significant increase in the operational capabilities of the Air and Space Force.
At the end of 2021, these drones will carry new payloads that are currently being acquired: a specific intelligence pod allowing the collection of electromagnetic signals, as well as an even more complete array of weapons, including GBU-49 bombs (with GPS / Laser guidance) and Hellfire air-to-ground missiles in addition to GBU-12 bombs (laser guidance).
Equipped with new technical capabilities, Reaper Block 5 will allow better integration into complex missions involving numerous air and land resources, particularly in the Sahelian theater.
In parallel with these evolutions which establish the operating conditions for armed drones while waiting for the development of a European MALE drone capability, the light surveillance and reconnaissance aircraft (ALSR) VADOR (Airborne vector for designation, observation and reconnaissance), whose operational implementation is scheduled for summer 2021, will complete the range of real-time intelligence capabilities deployed by the 33rd ESRA.