Will you buy, will you not buy? French armies are testing an American suicide drone, or kamikaze drone, the famed Swichtblade, which would quickly fill a capability gap identified for several years. Questioned by Cédric Perrin (LR), Armed Forces Minister Sébastien Lecornu admitted during a hearing before the Senate Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee on July 20 that his ministry was evaluating “the american knife” by specifying that“no decision has been made yet”.
Manufactured by the American company AeroVironment, this drone, which can be carried in a backpack and is launched through a missile launcher tube, is used to destroy armored vehicles in particular. It combines ISR capabilities through its S2S software with precision attack capabilities. According to the AeroVironment site, which includes articles from the American press, 700 of these expendable drones were supplied by the United States to Ukraine to fight against Russian forces.
Disruptive operational weapons
These suicide drones came into the public eye during the 2020 Nagorno-Karabakh conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan. They allowed the Azerbaijani army to win a lightning victory against the Armenians in the fall of 2020. LAzerbaijan’s success is explained in part by the massive use of Israeli drones – the Harop kamikaze drone, against armored units or artillery – and Turkish drones – with the Bayraktar TB2 model, small remote-controlled planes armed with light 50 to 60 kilograms, estimated the two rapporteurs of the fact-finding mission on drone warfare Stéphane Baudu and Jean Lassalle (July 2021).
“Coordinated with more conventional means, these drones and ammunition prowlerThey overwhelmed the Armenian air defenses, astonished and disorganized the Armenian army and allowed a quick victory.”estimated the two deputies.
These weapons were also used in the Libyan theater. D‘according to a report by the United Nations Security Council published in March 2021, the Government of the National Union of Libya would have used in March 2020 against the forces of Marshal Khalifa Haftar, combat drones or lethal autonomous weapons systems ( SALA) in swarm, including Kargu-2 manufactured by the Turkish company STM and other munitions prowleryes These SALA had been “programmed to engage targets, without the need to establish a data connection between the operator and the munition, and thus were actually in auto-find mode”estimated the rapporteurs of the fact-finding mission on drone warfare.
Finally, swarms of drones designated as suicide bombers have also been used by the Islamic State in Iraq, particularly during the battle of Mosul in 2016, as representatives of the general staff of the armed forces interviewed as part of this fact-finding mission told the rapporteurs.
the delay of france
“The war in Ukraine confirms a need already identified for several years to complete our force system with remotely operated ammunition”, the chief of the Army General Staff, General Pierre Schill, stressed in an interview with La Tribune in June. He is also not the first to express this capacity gap. The former Chief of Staff of the Air Force, General Philippe Lavigne, today Supreme Allied Commander for NATO Transformation, pointed out in June 2021 to the National Assembly: “In Nagorno-Karabakh, round ammunition was used. These developments challenge us and we must take into account these threats, the use of which is improving.”. However, at the time of this conflict, France did not want to fill this gap. Why ? For ethical reasons.
The former Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces, General François Lecointre, had also been very clear in June 2021 in the National Assembly. “The use of loitering ammunition it is not ethically acceptable. The greater the distance from the target to be destroyed, the greater the ethical questioning. This is a reflection that was carried out within the Ethics Committee of the Ministry of the Armed Forces. The drones we use allow us to control the ammunition fired at the target, which is precisely identified until the moment of firing”. DIn an opinion made public on April 29, 2021, theethics of the Defense spoke out against the use of SALAs but was in favor of using robots that incorporate artificial intelligence.
Despite these warnings, France ultimately decided to develop this type of weaponry in view of operational gains. “These ethical principles should not prevent France from considering the emergence of new capabilitieshad also esteemed Stéphane Baudu and Jean Lassalle. Thus, after the conflict in Haut-Karabagh, France would benefit from questioning the operational contribution that could be made by new uses or materials, such as stalking ammunition”..
“I find the term round ammunition inappropriate. It suggests that it would be completely autonomous ammunition capable of hitting our units unexpectedly and permanently. The operational reality is very different: it is remote-controlled ammunition, that is to say drones, more or less heavy, equipped with an explosive charge and operated remotely”, explained General Pierre Schill to La Tribune.
Calls for projects from the DGA
France has finally been put into operation. The General Directorate of Armaments (DGA), in collaboration with the Defense Innovation Agency (AID), launched two calls for complementary projects: Larinae, to neutralize an armored vehicle in motion at a distance of 50 kilometers, the drone having a range of one hour and a resistance to a disturbed environment, such as interference from communication channels or GNSS signals; Colibri, for the neutralization of a light vehicle at a distance of 5 kilometers with a range of 30 minutes.
“We recently launched a tender to produce armed drones, which I would describe as ammunitions Marauders, which, as consumables, shouldn’t cost too much. The cost of the weapon used must not be higher than that which is going to be frustrated”, the General Delegate for Armaments, Joël Barre, now replaced as of July 31 by Emmanuel Shiva, confirmed to the National Assembly in mid-July.
This call for projects aims to contract one or more project developments within a maximum period of 24 months each (demonstration included). Proposals from the candidates were expected on July 6. The Ministry of the Armed Forces wishes to generate short-term and low-cost solutions. This concerns both the drone and the ammunition on board, which will naturally have to be operated remotely. In particular, the proposed systems must present an overall cost of use “significantly inferior to weapons with comparable performance currently in use (mainly missiles)”, stressed the Ministry of the Armed Forces in this call for projects. Thus, the recurring cost of the consumable part must be less than 200,000 euros. Projects should start in December while demonstrations are expected in the first half of 2024.
“We hope to achieve relatively quickly the commissioning of sovereign, adapted, secure and, above all, certified capacities, which will allow training in mainland France, currently impossible with cash purchases, due to lack of certification”, the head of the army had specified to La Tribune. Meanwhile, France can buy off-the-shelf Switchblade kamikaze drones available very quickly.
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