The order which was awarded on December 15 (but got publicly disclosed just last week) includes “additional acquisition of DRAACO drone systems and associated services“. AeroVironment will act as prime contractor with the French SME DIXI Microtechniques as subcontractor.
This new contract follows an initial €5.9 million ($7.1 million) order awarded in January 2017 to AeroVironment. According to the French Defense Procurement Agency (DGA), the Daarco UAV was acquired to supplement special forces capabilities and providing an interim solution pending introduction of the SMDR system in the French Army and its naval counterpart, the Marine Mini-Drone System (SMDM).
The ALIACA UAV, developed by Survey Copter (an Airbus company), is being procured for the SMDM mission. For the record, Marine Nationale’s former Chief-of-Staff Admiral Christophe Prazuck announced his wish to see 1200 drones in the French Navy by 2030 last year as we reported at the time.
The number of systems purchased, nor their exact model were detailed in the 2017 and 2020 deals. The French Special Operation Forces experiment with the PUMA seems to have been conclusive given the budget released for the second order.
One has to explore a 2017 French parliamentary report to link the DRAACO acronym to AeroVironment’s family of Puma UAVs. The “Puma Draaco” was then mentioned as part of the SOF capability spectrum.
A best-seller, the Puma All Environment (Puma AE) has been declined in several variants and generations since its launch back in 2008. The latest generation, known as Puma 3 AE, has an endurance of three hours and an operational range of around 15-20 km. With its weight of just 7 kg, the Puma 3 AE can be man-launched from small craft, such as RHIBs.
One of the French systems was seen recently in the hands of the Commando Kieffer, one of the seven French Navy Commandos Marine units. Kieffer specializes in drone-based intelligence acquisition, C3I, K9 and overall intelligence missions. In September 2020, The French Navy Chief of Staff Admiral Pierre Vandier attended a naval exercise during which PUMA Draaco capabilities were demonstrated.
The Draaco was then deployed during a naval night raid conducted from Lorient. Infiltrated in support of a Penfentenyo commando combat group, a Kieffer commando multi-sensor intelligence team took advantage of it to provide information on a ground-based target.