PARIS — The French military has selected Nexter to develop new drones equipped with anti-tank warheads for the army, with a goal to demonstrate the new capability by the end of 2024, the company announced June 19.

The French Defense Innovation Agency – an agency similar to the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) – signed a contract with Nexter on June 16 to build a new medium-range, remotely operated munition under the “Larinae” project, which was launched in early May. Larinae is Latin for seagull.

Nexter and its partners’ proposed solution includes an unmanned aerial system (UAS) manufactured by French vendor EOS Technologie, along with core-generating charge technology produced by Nexter, and a GPS-independent navigation system capable of operating in contested environments from startup TRAAK. It’s intended to have a range of at least 80 kilometers (nearly 50 miles) and to remain autonomous for three hours.

The French defense ministry declined to give a price tag for the project.

Nexter – which is part of the European land defense systems group KNDS alongside Germany’s Krauss-Maffei Wegmann – touted the munition’s proposed ability to “thwart” active defenses of armored vehicles before piercing their armor. It will also contain an optronic ball capable of detecting vehicles 15 kilometers away by day, three kilometers by night, and which allows operators to observe terrain from afar.

The French Armed Forces have put a premium on developing a low-cost unmanned solution that can target and neutralize an armored vehicle between 5 and 50 kilometers away. Larinae focuses on the higher end of that distance, and a second project, “Colibri” – or Hummingbird – focuses on the lower end.

Loitering munitions have received renewed attention from militaries since being used by both Azerbaijan and Armenia in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict in 2020, and for their use by Ukraine in their ongoing defense against Russian forces.

France first announced an interest in procuring U.S.-built loitering munitions in 2022 as a transitional capability while the Larinae and Colibri projects move forward. This past April, U.S. unmanned systems manufacturer Aerovironment announced it had received a $64 million contract to provide its Switchblade 300 drone to the U.S. Army, and that the contract included foreign military sales for the capability to France “for the first time,” as well as to “another allied nation.” Those drones are scheduled to be delivered in 2024. Aerovironment has supplied the Switchblade 300 to the U.S. Army for over a decade.

The French government’s proposed military budget for the 2024-2030 period includes €5 billion ($5.5 billion) for unmanned systems. The budget is currently being deliberated by the French Senate, and has already been passed by the government’s lower body, the General Assembly.

Vivienne Machi is a reporter based in Stuttgart, Germany, contributing to Defense News' European coverage. She previously reported for National Defense Magazine, Defense Daily, Via Satellite, Foreign Policy and the Dayton Daily News. She was named the Defence Media Awards' best young defense journalist in 2020.

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