France recently received its first two American Reaper UAVs and immediately put them to work. These are replacing older Harfang UAVs. France wasted no time in retiring the Harfangs as three of them have been given (or sold very cheaply) to Morocco. France and Morocco have long had good relations, especially in military matters. Morocco needs UAVs for patrol its vast desert borders, which have long been exploited by smugglers. These days the threat is Islamic terrorists and drug smugglers, both of which Morocco wants to keep out. Morocco already has four Predator XP (the unarmed civil version) UAVs. The Harfangs can be armed but has never been equipped with weapons. The Reaper was designed with weapons use in mind and that is apparently one reason France switched to Reaper.
The Harfang was based on the Israeli Heron Shoval UAV, which in turn is very similar to the MQ-1 Predator and is selling well to foreign customers who cannot obtain the MQ-1. In addition to being one of the primary UAVs for many armed forces (Israel, India, Turkey, Russia, France, Brazil, El Salvador), the United States, Canada, and Australia have either bought, leased, or licensed manufactured the Heron. France has bought four Harfang ("Eagle") UAVs that were license built based on the Heron. These were used Afghanistan, Libya, and Mali since 2010.
The Heron Shoval weighs about the same (1.2 tons) as the Predator and has similar endurance (40 hours). Shoval has a slightly higher ceiling (10 kilometers/30,000 feet, versus 8 kilometers) and software which allows it to automatically take off, carry out a mission, and land automatically. Not all American large UAVs can do this. Both Predator and Shoval cost about the same ($5 million), although the Israelis are willing to be more flexible on price. Shoval does have a larger wingspan (16.5 meters/51 feet) than the Predator (13.2 meters/41 feet) and a payload of about 137 kg (300 pounds). The French version costs about $25 million each (including sensors and development costs). The Israeli origins of the Harfang are not a problem for Morocco, which has long had good relations with Israel.
The MQ-9 Reaper is a 4.7 ton, 11.6 meter (36 foot) long aircraft, with a 21.3 meter (66 foot) wingspan that looks like the MQ-1 Predator. It has six hard points and can carry 682 kg (1,500 pounds) of weapons. These include Hellfire missiles (up to eight), two Sidewinder or two AMRAAM air-to-air missiles, two Maverick missiles, or two 227 kg (500 pound) smart bombs (laser or GPS guided). Max speed is 400 kilometers an hour and max endurance is 15 hours. The Reaper is considered a combat aircraft, to replace F-16s or A-10s in many situations.
Until recently demand for UAVs in Iraq and Afghanistan was so great that the U.S. would not provide many Predators or Reapers, with or without weapons to foreign buyers. This forced foreigner to develop their own UAVs or seek them from the other major source of UAVs; Israel. But with the withdrawal of most American troops from Iraq and Afghanistan since 2011, it’s easier to get Predators and Reapers.