By Tesfa-Alem Tekle
February 14, 2013 (ADDIS ABABA) – An Ethiopian military source has told Sudan Tribune that the country has built the first unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) or drone which could be used for multiple purposes.
- A US military drone (Source: CIA)
After undergoing testing, the locally made drones, have demonstrated their capability of performing a number of militarily and civilian applications, according to the source.
Speaking on condition of anonymity from the country’s air force base in Debrezeit town, a military official told Sudan Tribune that the drones are equipped with onboard sensors, cameras and GPS to carry out cost-effective monitoring activities even across difficult landscapes like the highlands of Ethiopia.
Besides serving in a number of military missions - such as in monitoring border security - the UAVs will also be deployed to perform geophysical surveys, assist forest protection and monitor forest fires or other natural disasters.
The drones have already made test flights performing a geophysical survey of Ethiopia’s controversial grand renaissance dam, a massive hydro-power plant project the country is constructing on the Blue Nile River near to the Sudanese border.
In recent years, many African countries have shown growing interest in using drones as a cost-effective way to control huge infrastructure facilities, as well as areas rich in natural resources such as oil, mine and gas sites.
In 2011 Ethiopia signed an agreement with Israeli manufacturer BlueBird Aero Systems to purchase drones.
Binyam Tekle, a lecturer and researcher at a government university, says the development of indigenous drones is a great achievement for Ethiopia and will help strengthen the national army.
Due to Ethiopia’s long and fragile borders with Eritrea, Somalia, Kenya, Sudan and more recently South Sudan, he said it is timely for the country to use UAVs to monitor these shared and often tense and porous zones.
“With Eritrea-backed rebels and Somalia’s al-Qaeda linked al-Shabaab terrorists repeatedly posing threats to national security, using UAVs will be crucial for Ethiopia to avert planned attacks,” he told Sudan Tribune.
Ethiopia is a key regional security partner to the United States particularly in the war on terror due to its proximity to Yemen and Somalia.
In 2011, the Obama administration launched a drone base in Ethiopia for counter-terrorism operations in the Horn of Africa, particularly to attack al-Qaeda affiliates in Somalia. Earlier this month, it was revealed that the US has had a drone base in Saudi Arabia, with its existence kept secret by the US media in collusion with the Obama administration.
In recent years, Ethiopia has made tremendous achievements in the defence sector by managing to manufacture its own military equipment and defence systems.
On Thursday, Ethiopia marked its first ever Defence Force Day under the theme “Our constitutional loyalty and public nature would be preserved”.
A defence exhibition was staged in the heart of the capital, Addis Ababa, demonstrating the level of progress the nation has made.
Light and heavy modern weapons, as well as different vehicles manufactured by the army-run automotive industry were also displayed at the exhibition.
Government officials said that Ethiopia has built a defence force capable of breaking any internal or external enemy.
The Horn of Africa nation has one of the strongest army and air forces on the continent and often contributes troops to United Nations peace keeping missions.
Ethiopia spends around 2.4% of its GDP on the military.