Geopolitical changes in the Middle East have accelerated some processes that began earlier. One is the tightening of relations between the Israeli and French air forces.
In recent years the French air force has accumulated operational capabilities through its combat activities in different areas of the world. Gen Denis Mercier, chief of staff of the French air force, visited the Israeli air force (IAF) earlier this month and said that the French air force wished to promote close co-operation with the IAF.
“I think that the French and Israeli air forces are similar in terms of capabilities and combat activities,” Gen Mercier said, quoted on the IAF website.
The high ranking French officer flew in aboard an IAF F-15I “Raam” fighter from the “Hammers” squadron at Hatzerim air base, and later observed the Heron TP “Eitan” unmanned air system (UAS). “Both of our air forces know how to work alone and in a coalition, because these are air forces that possess high operational flexibility,” he stresses.
In 2012 there were signs that France was to purchase the Heron TP. However, last year the plan to acquire the IAI/Dassault heavy UAS was frozen, following presidential elections and an overall reassessment of French defence needs.
The Heron TP is powered by a P&WC PT-6 turboprop engine. It has a max take-off weight of 4t. The fuselage is 13m (43ft) long, with a wingspan of 26m.
I’m not sure that the visit of the French general will affect the decision making process in Paris – which is based only on political considerations. However, without any doubt the visit has pushed the relations between the two air forces to a new level.
The French air force is operating the “Harfang” UAS, which is a version of the IAI Heron.