Rwanda fires anti-aircraft missile again in DRC

This is not the first time such an incident is occuring

The Rwandan army is supporting M23 rebels in eastern DR Congo, using sophisticated weapons such as surface-to-air missiles. Tensions are running high in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) as fighting intensifies on the ground.

A Rwandan Defence Force (RDF) mobile Surface-to-Air Missile (SAM) was fired at a UN observation drone last Wednesday without hitting it, a confidential United Nations report said. A “suspected Rwandan Defence Force (RDF) mobile Surface-to-Air Missile (SAM)” was fired at a UN observation drone last Wednesday without hitting it, the confidential report said.

Open source information identifies the UN drone as the Selex ES Falco EVO UAV. Falco EVO is an all-weather, persistent-surveillance, unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) produced by Leonardo-Finmeccanica (formerly SELEX ES). The type has been in service with the  United Nations Organisation Stabilization Mission in the DR Congo (MONUSCO) since 2014, and are operated by Italian contractors. One UAV was lost in November 2023, and was subsequently retrieved largely intact by the South African contingent in DR Congo.

According to the UN report, “external military intelligence from France” supports assessment that the suspected WZ551 6×6 IFV mobile SAM system is owned by Rwandan.

The UN has no past reporting of known armed groups possessing the training, capital or resources to operate and maintain a mobile SAM system. The M23 and the Rwanda army have used numerous weapons against aircraft and also have in their armory anti-aircraft guns and MANPAD mobile air defence systems.

Photos of the WZ551 6×6 IFV mobile SAM system were taken by the targeted (Falco EVO) drone about 70 kilometres (44 miles) north of the city of Goma, in rebel-held Rutshuru territory.

The WZ551 6×6 IFV mobile SAM system also know as the Yitian anti-aircraft missile system is a short-range air-defense (SHORAD) system built by China for the domestic and export market.

It consists of a combat module mounted on a 6×6 WZ-551 armored vehicle chassis produced by NORINCO (China). Equipped with 8 Tianlong 6 short-range surface-to-air missiles, a modified version of the air-to-air missile TY-90 (Sky Swallow-90), this system has an effective range of 300 to 6,000 meters and a maximum operational altitude of 4,000 meters.

Its primary mission is to provide low-altitude protection for armored units against fixed-wing aircraft, helicopters, unmanned aerial vehicles and other airborne threats. The manufacturer also claims the system has an anti-cruise missile capability. The system consists of eight canister-launched TY-90 infrared homing missiles and two sensor systems mounted on a turret. The radar systems include a rotating antenna acquisition radar on top with an advanced electro-optical package beneath it. The three-dimensional X-band tracking radar can be folded down for transport. The E/O package includes day and thermal sights, laser rangefinder and an automatic target tracker. The E/O system has a detection range of 7 mi (12 km) and tracking range of 6 mi (10 km), according to the manufacturer

The TY-90’s firing mechanism relies on a relatively passive, multi-phase array radar positioned atop the operational module, while the armored WZ-551 chassis retains a heavy 12.7 mm machine gun for self-defense. The system plays a critical role in protecting armored units.

This is not the first time such an incident is occuring, similarly, last year January, Rwanda’s defense force shot at a Democratic Republic of Congo Sukhoi Su-25 ground attack jet with man portable air defence weapon (MANPAD) that allegedly violated its airspace, as tensions between the neighboring countries escalate.

In a video shared on Twitter by the Rwanda Broadcasting Agency (RBA), on Tuesday, a projectile could be seen shooting toward an airborne military plane, before exploding in the air near the plane.

The plane continued to fly and later crashed landed as seen in subsequent videos. Congo said the plane did not suffer any major damages.

Rwanda took “defensive measures” against the Sukhoi-25 jet, it said. “Rwanda asks the Democratic Republic of Congo to stop this aggression.”

The DRC countered the Rwandan authorities, saying the aircraft was flying “within Congolese territory”. It described Rwanda’s move as a “deliberate act of aggression that amounts to an act of war” aimed at undermining a peace agreement to end an offensive by the M23 rebel group.

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