France in talks with US, Israel to buy drones: Defence minister

PARIS (REUTERS) - France is in talks with the United States and Israel to buy intelligence-gathering drones to build up a modern fleet, Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said on Sunday.

France's existing hardware is outdated and its military intervention in Mali this year has exposed its shortage of surveillance drones suitable for modern warfare. The United States provided French commanders with intelligence from its drones based in Niger.

"We need this capacity in the short term. There are currently two countries in the world that build drones, the United States and Israel," Mr Le Drian said on TV channel iTele.

"We are in discussions with each to buy some straight away," he said.

Le Monde newspaper reported on Saturday that France had received approval from the US Pentagon to buy two Reaper drones, and that the deal only needed backing from Congress.

The newspaper said France was looking at eventually buying a total of five or seven Reapers, built by privately held General Atomics, for 300 million euros (S$483 million).

The aim was to deploy the two US-made drones in Mali before the end of the year, Mr Le Monde said.

Buying hardware abroad is a sensitive subject in France, a country that strives to rely on allies as little as possible to meet its defence needs.

Mr Le Drian said France had fallen behind other countries and that in the long term, it, and the rest of Europe, had to build up their capacities to make such unmanned aircraft.

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