French Army Pursues Loitering Munitions

loitering munitions
France remotely operated rotor craft.

After observing the use of loitering munitions in combat the French military have determined that given systems with the necessary performance these have a role to play on the future battlefield.

Col. Arnaud Goujon, the French Army’s chief of plans shared with reporters back in June 2022 that the Army has been considering the benefits and how to best use the loitering munition that has been featured in combat in the Ukraine.

He stated “Six months from now, we’re going to have a really good discussion on how we might proceed”. He further explained “the capability must differ from what is already offered by different a mortar or an artillery.”

However, “If it goes 3 kilometres away and flies for 15 minutes, then it’s interesting, if not ten times more expensive.”

Shortly after his statements the French Ministry of Defence formally requested approval from the US Government to purchase the AeroVironment Switchblade 300 as an urgent requirement. The quantity has been reported as 82 systems.

About the same time the DGA (General Directorate of Armaments) and AID (Defence Innovation Agency announced launch of its Larinae and Colibri projects toward development of its own unmanned aerial munitions. The selection of candidates for the later, low cost system with 5 km range and 30 minutes flight time was recently announced.

One is Nexter’s Dard, a flying wing design, with a 500-gram fragmentation warhead. Dard can be both configured as a munition or as a surveillance asset and can be recovered after a mission. The other candidate call Sphinx is being provided by team of MBDA and Novadem. It is understood their approach is a rotor-bladed VTOL drone possibly based on the that is already being used by the French Army.

Initial delivery of systems from each company are to be delivered for evaluation in 2024. With two very different fixed-wing and rotor designs to evaluate the Army will be well positioned to access the benefits and disadvantages of each.

The parallel Larinae (Gull) project calls for a 50 km range and 60 minute airborne time loitering munition that can address armoured or hardened targets. The selection of the candidate(s) for this capability is expected later in 2023. Nexter has proposed a solution using an inverted gull wing design equipped with an explosively formed penetrator-type warhead. Nexter displayed its system at SOFIN 2023 defence exhibition.

In March 2023 French defence minister Sébastien Lecornu shared that “part of the lessons learned from Ukraine” the French Army needs “at least 1,800” low-cost remotely-controlled loitering munitions.

by Stephen W. Miller