French Special Operations Forces (SOF) could soon benefit from forward deployed three-dimensional (3D) printing of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), according to service officials from the French Air Force’s (FAF’s) Centre of Excellence for Drones (CED).
Addressing delegates at the Special Operations Forces Innovation Network Seminar (SOFINS) at Camp de Souge, France, on 30th March, CED’s Commander Daniel-Frederic Gigan described how his organisation was currently working on options in this area in collaboration with the French Special Operations Command.
His thoughts echoed sentiments reflected by Commander of French Special Operations Command, Rear Admiral Laurent Isnard, who explained to SOFINS on 28th March requirements for his organisation to extend its organic UAV capabilities to gain tactical advantage across the battlefield.
“The tactical drone for the Commando is the extension of the weapon. Some can fire missiles from thousands of metres away so it’s an extension of our action. But how do we use it in the best way possible like binoculars or cell phones?” Isnard asked.
“This technology is here and being mastered by some people. We have to take advantage of that and gain some seconds on the enemy. We need some early wraning to deal with them before they deal with us,” he discussed.
According to Gigan, the CED could be deployed in the field alongside Special Operations Task Groups, such as those currently employed in the Middle East as part of Operation Inherent Resolve, in order to rapidly response to emerging requirements.
“CED has the capacity to develop this capability quickly with our experience in the field and we could do some prototyping in the field in a period somewhere between three days to a week. We are clearly answering a requirement from the Special Operations Command and operational theatres,” Gigan explained.
However, he also warned how terrorist organisations such as the self-proclaimed Islamic State (IS) now retained access to dedicated UAV mission laboratories, manned by University graduates.
“They can develop tools against us very quickly,” Gigan continued. “But we have superior capacity which CED can deploy operationally.”
French SOF remain involved in operations against IS, with operators from the 10th Air Parachute Commando unit and 1er Régiment de Parachutistes d'Infanterie de Marine (1 RPIMa), conducting specialist intelligence gathering missions.
This includes Sensitive Site Exploitation procedures which have included consideration of IS tactics, techniques and procedures relating to UAVs and associated booby traps. In October 2016, two French SOF operators were injured by such a device in the vicinity of Erbil, Iraq.
On the offensive, the French ‘Hydra’ Special Operations Task Group is also deploying small UAVs to conduct reconnaissance of IS positions ahead of advancing coalition forces, defence sources explained to MILITARY TECHNOLOGY.
Although mainly concerned with the development of mini-UAVs, the CED is also paying particular attention to the development of Artificial Intelligence (AI) algorithms designed to further extend the autonomous capabilities of UAVs.
Gigan explained how the CED would continue to mature UAV technology with modularity in mind as well as development of low cost technology and civil-military cooperation (CIMIC) solutions.
Headquarters in Salon-de-Provence and established in July 2016, the CED serves multiple defence customers including the Air Force and Special Operations Command, including training and operational utility. The CED is assisted by the private sector with participants including Parrot, Pole Pegase and Engie. Air frames available include DGI’s Phantom 4 as well as Elbit Systems’ Skylark 1 LE.
“The CED is structuring our ecosystem so that one day, we can open our catalogue to offer on-the-shelf products needed by our forces. This is why inonvation is key,” Gigan proclaimed.