France defence envoy in US for possible drone purchase
French Defence Minister Herve Morin said Monday he was sending his head of defence procurement to the United States to study the possibility of buying Predator drones there for use in Afghanistan.
Morin said Laurent Collet-Billon, the head of the DGA procurement agency, would fly Monday to the US but insisted that no decision had yet been made to buy any Predators, which are made by General Atomics.
The minister said he would be "delighted" to be able to find a French or European solution to France's pressing need for more drones, but that "there are still many points to be cleared up" by European defence contractors.
Morin was speaking at the opening of the Eurosatory defence trade show in a Paris suburb.
French forces in Afghanistan have just three drones -- called Harfangs and made by the EADS European defence group -- and are calling for the rapid deployment of many more to help the fight the Taliban.
Media reports say France may turn to the United States for an interim solution while it waits for a European alternative.
That possibility has sparked criticism from some French politicians who argue that France must not lose out on the lucrative and growing market for drones.
EADS and French aircraft maker Dassault -- in cooperation with defence group Thales -- are both working on new drone models but these will not be ready for several years.
© 2010 AFP