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US readies sale of Reaper drones to France

A US Reaper drone is seen March 13, 2009
Plans to sell US Reaper drones to France advanced as Congress raised no objections to the contract, Pentagon officials said.

Plans to sell US Reaper drones to France advanced Monday as Congress raised no objections to the contract, Pentagon officials said.

The Defense Security Cooperation Agency, which oversees foreign military sales, had notified Congress on June 27 of the proposed contract, and lawmakers voiced no opposition during a 15-day review period.

"Congress did not propose any joint resolution of disapproval. The case can proceed to be offered," Lorna Jons of the DSCA told AFP.

French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian had announced on June 11 plans to buy 12 Reaper aircraft from the United States, a purchase worth about $874 million, or 670 million Euros.

An initial two drones, currently in production by San Diego-based manufacturer General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, are due to be delivered to France by the end of the year.

The robotic aircraft will repace Harfang drones, which are technologically less advanced.

The NATO-led air war in Libya in 2011 and the French military intervention in Mali this year have underscored France's shortage of surveillance drones, which have transformed warfare in the past decade since being introduced on a large-scale in the US wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

In its notification to Congress, the DSCA said the project would provide France with up to 16 MQ-9 Reapers, as well as "associated equipment, parts, training and logistical support" at a cost of $1.5 billion.

The number of drones cited by the Pentagon exceeded the number unveiled by Paris, which is often the case in arms deals to allow a partner to order additional hardware without requiring the DSCA to come back to the US Congress for another approval.

In justifying the sale, the agency said it is "vital to the US national interest to assist France to develop and maintain a strong and ready self-defense capability" and that the drones would bolster the intelligence and surveillance capability of France while also ensuring American and French forces can operate jointly.

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