Saturday, February 16, 2013

► ETHIOPIA: Military claims to have pioneered country's first home-grown UAV.

Ethiopian Air ForceUnnamed military sources in Ethiopia state that the country has pioneered its own indigenous Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) or drone. The UAVs have allegedly already performed a geophysical survey of Ethiopia’s Grand Renaissance Dam, a massive hydroelectric installation under construction on the Blue Nile.

An IAI Heron UAV
An IAI Heron UAV (IAI)
According to a report carried by The Sudan Tribune, an Ethiopian Air Force military official based in Debre Zeyit, south east of Addis Ababa, said the drones had been equipped with on-board sensors, cameras and GPS to carry out what he termed, "cost-effective monitoring activities" suited to the difficult terrain as found in the Ethiopian Highlands.

It is not known whether these UAV are fully home grown technology or are built under license from Israeli firm, BlueBird Aero Systems, from whom the Ethiopian Army bought several drones in 2011. Under the terms of the deal, BlueBird were also contracted to establish maintenance facilities in Ethiopia for the UAV.

While Ethiopia's precarious relationship with northern neighbours, Eritrea (with whom they have fought several wars since Eritrea's secession from Ethiopia in 1991) and their ongoing military intervention against Islamic militants, Al Shabaab, in western Somalia, will certainly provide the rationale to develop the UAVs for military means, Africa's own growing need for UAVs will provide the financial incentive.

The United Nations' Security Council last month approved the use of UAVs in The Democratic Republic of Congo's porous and volatile borderlands, where U.N. experts claim a year-old rebellion has received support from neighbouring Rwanda and Uganda, a charge both countries deny. Surveillance drones could be used by peacekeepers in the rugged hills of the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, the first such deployment of unmanned aircraft in a U.N. mission, as early as June.

The demand for UAVs is rising in Africa, with countries increasingly looking for cost-effective security systems and equipment to monitor long, inaccessible border areas and critical infrastructure such as oil and power installations.

Israel IAI (Israeli Aircraft Industries), Elbit and Aeronautics Defense Systems have all reportedly sold UAV systems to Angola, Kenya, the Ivory Coast, Nigeria, Uganda and Tanzania.