For about nine months, the French government has had an unsolicited proposal on the table from Thales to provide Hermes 450s for Afghanistan operations, not unlike what the contractor is doing for the U.K. Now, a senior Thales exec says a decision on moving forward with the deployment could come in April.
There are differences between the U.K. and French operation, if the latter gets the green light. The U.K. has about 10 Hermes 450s — they’ve amassed around 17,000 flight hours in Iraq and Afghanistan — on a lease basis. The basic French program is for three vehicles, probably purchased.
Thales officials believe France will suffer the same problems with the Sperwer UAV now in Afghanistan as other countries have had to deal with. That, they expect, will provide impetus to the Hermes 450 operation — the Hermes 450 also can stay aloft much longer.
Meanwhile, the contractor is hoping the Brit experience will help convince Paris. No Hermes 450s have been lost and the U.K. government just extended the fee-for-service deal by 18 months.
One issue in France is the budget. There is no clear funding line for urgent operational needs, although Paris is trying to improve the process to get equipment out to deployed forces.