EUROSATORY NEWS: French Army to Acquire First Loitering Munitions

By Stew Magnuson

AeroVironment photo

PARIS — The French army will be the latest ground force to add loitering munitions to its arsenal, a service leader said June 13 at the Eurosatory defense trade show.

Col. Arnaud Goujon, chief of plans at the French army headquarters, said the army is looking to add the weapon to its inventory in about six months.

“We’re still in the process of defining how we are going to use them,” he told reporters.

Loitering munitions, also called “kamikaze drones,” first made their debut at trade shows such as Eurosatory in the 2010s, but it’s only in the last few years that the weapon has come to the forefront. Dozens of vendors at the trade show this year are selling loitering munitions, or systems to defend against them.

Loitering munitions come in many sizes, with different warheads, and can be launched from a tube, by hand or from an aircraft. They come with cameras that can help an operator choose targets. As the name suggests, they can circle an area for a long period of time, serving as a reconnaissance platform until a target is spotted. A loitering munition may return to its point of origin if no opportunities present themselves, or be commanded to slam into a target at hundreds of kilometers per hour.

Forces in the Ukraine this year have used them against Russian vehicles, but Goujon pointed out that the Nogorno-Karabahk conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia in 2020 was where the first lessons were learned about their potential effectiveness. In that conflict Azerbaijani drones acquired from foreign makers were able to destroy Russian-made T-72 tanks.

“You need something that is different than a mortar or an artillery shell,” Goujon said. “If it is the same price of a mortar round that goes about three kilometers away and flies for 15 minutes, then it’s interesting,” he said. If it costs 10 times as much as a mortar or an artillery round with the same range, then it’s not as interesting, he added.

If it can fly 30 or 50 kilometers away and endure for two to four hours, “then it’s a different animal,” he said.

Despite his misgivings on smaller loitering munitions, the near-term purchase would be the ones that fly shorter distances and carry smaller warheads, he said, mentioning the Switchblade loitering munition offered by the U.S. manufacturer AeroVironment. “Six months from now, we’re going to have a really good discussion” on how to employ them, he said.

The proliferation of loitering munitions means the French army must also figure out how to defend against them, he added.

The French army is looking at low-cost weapons mounted on turrets to protect perimeters or vehicles, he said. “We have a mix of solutions,” he said, adding that lasers could be an effective solution, “but the problem is price.”

For more on the international market for loitering munitions, see the August issue of National Defense.


Topics: Robotics and Autonomous Systems

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