Military drones are rapidly changing the face of warfare. They have become a key operational tool for 21st-century armed forces, providing them with an unending stream of real-time information from all manner of locations.
In recent years, the use of military drones has become increasingly popular among armed forces around the world. Africa is no exception, as many countries on the continent have started to invest in and deploy these unmanned aerial vehicles for military purposes. This has led to a new arms race in the region, with countries seeking to gain a technological advantage over their neighbours.
Military drones, also known as unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), are aircraft that are operated remotely or autonomously without a human pilot on board. They can be used for a variety of purposes, including surveillance, reconnaissance, target acquisition, and even airstrikes. In Africa, drones have been used by a number of countries for a variety of purposes, from combating terrorism to monitoring illegal activities like poaching and smuggling.
One of the countries at the forefront of this new arms race is Nigeria, which has been using drones for surveillance and reconnaissance operations against Boko Haram, the Islamic extremist group that has been waging a campaign of terror in the country’s northeast. Nigeria has acquired several drones from China, Israel, and the United States, and has also developed its own UAVs, including the Gulma and the Tsaigumi.
Other African countries that have acquired military drones include South Africa, which has been using drones to monitor its borders and combat rhino poaching, and Kenya, which has used drones for surveillance and reconnaissance in its campaign against al-Shabaab militants in neighbouring Somalia. Morocco, Tunisia, and Algeria have also been using drones for military purposes, particularly in their campaigns against extremist groups in the Sahel and the Maghreb regions.
The use of military drones in Africa has not been without controversy, however. Critics argue that the deployment of these unmanned vehicles raises serious questions about the ethics of warfare and the potential for civilian casualties. There have also been concerns about the lack of transparency and accountability surrounding drone operations, particularly when they are carried out by foreign militaries or private contractors.
Despite these concerns, it is clear that military drones are becoming an increasingly important tool for African armed forces. As technology continues to evolve and become more sophisticated, it is likely that more and more countries on the continent will invest in drones for military purposes. This could lead to a further escalation of the arms race, as countries seek to gain a technological edge over their rivals.
In conclusion, the use of military drones in Africa is a complex and controversial issue. While these unmanned aerial vehicles offer significant advantages in terms of surveillance, reconnaissance, and target acquisition, there are also serious ethical and legal concerns that need to be addressed. As the use of military drones becomes more widespread in Africa, it is important that governments, civil society groups, and international organizations work together to ensure that their deployment is transparent, accountable, and in line with international law.
In addition, drones are also proving to be cost-effective tools for military and counter-insurgency operations, as well as peacekeeping and peacemaking missions. From Albania to Zambia, military drones are playing increasingly visible roles across Africa.
This article takes an in-depth look at how drone usage is changing the face of warfare on the continent, as well as some of the implications for African security that come with it.
Providing aerial surveillance
Drones began their journey to become a staple military tool in the realm of aerial surveillance. With the ability to fly low and silently, as well as stay aloft for long durations, drones are ideal for monitoring large swaths of land.
Military drones can be outfitted with infrared cameras to give operators a clear view of what is happening on the ground, even in the dark of night. Communications and electronic intelligence (ELINT) gathering equipment are also frequently affixed to drones.
This allows military drones to keep an eye on enemy communications, track the movement of enemy vehicles, and even monitor the signals emitted by enemy equipment, such as missiles and rockets.
Drone strike against terrorism
While the first generation of military drones was designed to provide real-time intelligence, the second generation brought a new capability to the battlefield: lethal force.
Armed drones can be deployed to conduct a wide variety of missions against enemy forces, ranging from the assassination of high-value targets to large-scale attacks on militant bases.
Drones that are outfitted with missiles or other weapons can be operated remotely, allowing a pilot to sit thousands of miles away while guiding a missile to impact. The first recorded instance of a drone strike against terrorism in Africa came in 2002, when an Israeli-operated drone fired a missile at a car near the Lebanon-Israel border, killing Mohammed Kawas, a member of Hezbollah, an Iranian-backed Lebanese militant group.
Monitoring of border areas
The ability of drones to conduct long-range surveillance is also being used to monitor the borders of African nations. The largest and most expensive military drones are often too large to be used in the skies above places like Mali and southern Sudan, where they would be too easily spotted by militants looking to intercept them.
Instead, smaller drones, along with mini and micro air vehicles (MAVs), are being used to keep tabs on African borders. Drones allow central African governments to monitor remote border areas in near-real time, providing better surveillance than can be provided with fixed-wing aircraft. This allows border police to respond more quickly to smuggling and illegal immigration.
Helping with search-and-rescue missions
Military drones have a long history of assisting in search-and-rescue missions. The first time a military drone was used for this purpose was in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, when a Predator drone was used to survey the flooded city of New Orleans.
Drones have also been used to assist in the search for survivors in places like the Philippines, where earthquakes have caused widespread devastation. In 2014, the Spanish government conducted a massive search operation for a missing airliner in the southern desert of Western Sahara. The search was ultimately unsuccessful, but the military deployed a Reaper drone to assist in the hunt.
Monitoring wildlife with drone surveillance
Military drones are not just being used to monitor human populations and borders, but also animals and wildlife. In South Africa, military drones are being used to monitor wildlife in critical habitats, such as the Kalahari Desert and the Karoo Semi-desert.
Drones can be used to provide real-time monitoring of animal populations, helping to predict disease outbreaks and the likelihood of major crop damage. This information can then be used to direct resources, such as pesticides and medical aid, to areas most in need.
Military drones are quickly becoming a staple of military operations across Africa. While the first generation of military drones was designed to provide aerial surveillance, the second generation brought a new capability to the battlefield: lethal force.
Armed drones can be deployed to conduct a wide variety of missions against enemy forces, ranging from the assassination of high-value targets to large-scale attacks on militant bases. Drones that are outfitted with missiles or other weapons can be operated remotely, allowing a pilot to sit thousands of miles away while guiding a missile to impact.
Drones that are used for surveillance can be equipped with synthetic aperture radar (SAR) sensors that can penetrate through clouds, dust, and smoke to give a clearer view of what is happening below.
There is growing debate about the use of military drones, especially regarding their use for lethal force. As military drones continue to evolve, and become smaller, cheaper, and more capable, their use in Africa is likely to increase.