Loitering munitions, also known as kamikaze drones or suicide drones, are an emerging weapon system that has gained popularity in recent years due to their unique capabilities.
Loitering munitions are unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) that can hover over an area for an extended period of time, using advanced sensors to identify and track targets. Once a target is located, the loitering munition can then be directed to fly directly into the target, destroying it in a highly precise and targeted manner.
The use of loitering munitions has become increasingly popular in military conflicts around the world, with several countries investing heavily in the development of these systems. One of the main advantages of loitering munitions is their ability to provide enhanced strike capabilities, allowing forces to engage targets with precision and accuracy from long ranges. This makes them an attractive option for African forces that are often faced with asymmetric warfare and have limited resources to devote to expensive and sophisticated weapon systems.
In recent years, several African countries have begun to invest in loitering munitions as a means of enhancing their military capabilities. Nigeria, for example, is developing the Ichoku loitering munition which will be used in operations against the Boko Haram terrorist group. The Ichoku loitering munition with a range of up to 15 km and can be used to strike a large range of targets
Similarly, Sudan’s Military Industry Corporation (MIC) has launched it’s indigenous Kamin-25 loitering munition designed to be launched from an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV).
The Kamin-25 loitering munition was unveiled during the IDEX 2023 show recently held in Abu Dhabi.
Also, Paramount Aerospace Systems (PAS), a subsidiary of Paramount, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) headquartered global aerospace and technology company, announced that its groundbreaking N-Raven loitering munition will begin production in April this year with first deliveries in October, to meet the urgent requirements of armed forces around the world.
South Africa’s Paramount Advanced Technologies (PAT) unveiled the N-Raven long-range precision strike swarming unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) system during the International Defence Exhibition & Conference (IDEX) 2021.
Likewise, following its appearance at the Africa Aerospace and Defense (AAD) show in South Africa on 21-25 September 2022, several African delegates were captivated by the capability of the Turkish-made Kargu quadcopter strike UAV.
Built for asymmetric warfare and counterinsurgencies as an ISR or loitering munition platform, Kargu is relatively new as it only entered service in the Turkish forces four years ago.
Likewise, some African countries have shown interest in the purchase of swarm drones that are being developed locally in India due to ongoing wars in Ukraine and Armenia where both loitering munition and swarm drones have played a key role in the outcome of the war.
The use of loitering munitions by African forces has several advantages. First, these systems can provide enhanced situational awareness, allowing forces to better identify and track potential threats. This is particularly important in asymmetric warfare, where insurgents and terrorists often operate in urban areas and blend in with the local population. Loitering munitions can provide a bird’s-eye view of the battlefield, allowing forces to better understand the terrain and potential threats.
Second, loitering munitions can provide a highly precise and targeted strike capability. This is particularly important in situations where collateral damage must be minimized, such as in urban areas or when engaging high-value targets. Loitering munitions can be directed to fly directly into a target, minimizing the risk of collateral damage and ensuring that only the intended target is destroyed.
Finally, loitering munitions can provide a cost-effective means of enhancing military capabilities. Compared to traditional manned aircraft or ground-based systems, loitering munitions are relatively inexpensive to operate and maintain. This makes them an attractive option for African forces that have limited resources to devote to expensive weapon systems.
Despite these advantages, there are also some concerns associated with the use of loitering munitions. One of the main concerns is the risk of accidental or unintended strikes. Loitering munitions rely on advanced sensors to identify and track targets, and there is a risk that these sensors could misidentify a target or mistake a civilian for a combatant.
Additionally, the use of loitering munitions raises ethical and legal questions about the use of force. As with any weapon system, there is a risk that loitering munitions could be used to target civilians or engage in indiscriminate attacks. It is important for African forces to establish clear rules of engagement and protocols for the use of these systems to minimize the risk of unintended harm.
For instance, in May 2021, “an autonomous weaponized drone hunted down a human target” and attacked them without being specifically ordered to, according to a report from the UN Security Council’s Panel of Experts on Libya, published in March 2021.
The “killer drone” acted on its own without human intervention, “hunted down” and killed a human target without being instructed to do so.
The incident took place during clashes in Libya last year, a country that has witnessed the largest drones war in humankind history.
In the incident, a KARGU-2 quadcopter drone manufactured by STM, a Turkish company autonomously attacked a Libyan National Army (LNA) personnel during a conflict.
The Turkish-built KARGU-2, targeted, hunted down and killed one of Haftar’s soldiers while he tried to retreat.
The killer drone was fitted with an explosive charge, and it nosedived on the human target, exploding its charge thereby killing the unsuspecting victim.
In conclusion, loitering munitions offer an attractive option for African forces looking to enhance their military capabilities. These systems provide enhanced situational awareness, precise and targeted strike capabilities, and a cost-effective means of augmenting military power. However, there are also risks and concerns associated with their use, including the potential for accidental or unintended strikes, and ethical and legal questions around the use of force.
To address these risks and concerns, African forces should establish clear rules of engagement and protocols for the use of loitering munitions. This should include robust training and procedures to minimize the risk of accidental or unintended strikes and ensure that loitering munitions are only used against legitimate military targets. It is also important for African forces to be transparent about their use of loitering munitions and ensure that they are used in accordance with international humanitarian law.
Overall, loitering munitions have the potential to offer enhanced strike capabilities to African forces, enabling them to better counter asymmetric threats and protect their citizens. However, their use must be guided by clear rules and ethical considerations to minimize the risk of unintended harm and ensure that they are used in a responsible and accountable manner.