The U.N.’s Drone Air Force Has Arrived

Peacekeepers deploy unmanned aircraft in Congo

The U.N.’s Drone Air Force Has Arrived The U.N.’s Drone Air Force Has Arrived

Uncategorized December 4, 2013 0

A Falco UAV at the airfield in Goma. U.N./Sylvain Liechti photo The U.N.’s Drone Air Force Has Arrived Peacekeepers deploy unmanned aircraft in Congo... The U.N.’s Drone Air Force Has Arrived
A Falco UAV at the airfield in Goma. U.N./Sylvain Liechti photo

The U.N.’s Drone Air Force Has Arrived

Peacekeepers deploy unmanned aircraft in Congo

In a move to bring the latest in military technology to its largest peacekeeping operation, the U.N. for the first time deployed Unmanned Aerial Vehicles in eastern Congo.

Since Tuesday, two unarmed, medium-range surveillance drones have been operational at the airfield of Goma on the Rwandan border. With plans to add three more robots, the U.N. is aiming for 24-hour surveillance by March next year.

The drone in question is the Falco, a product of Italian company Selex ES, which is also a major supplier for the Eurofighter warplane. The Falco has seen action in Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Libya. It has a range of 250 kilometers and will thus be able to patrol the skies over large parts of Congo’s restive North and South Kivu provinces.

U.N. Force commander Gen. Carlos Alberto Dos Santos Cruz. U.N./Sylvain Liechti photo

A good fit

This area is hilly and covered by dense forests with roads mostly in bad repair, if passable by vehicles at all. While the U.N. has a range of helicopters at its disposal, from transporters to gunships, these are badly needed for logistics and tactical deployments and are also considered too expensive to be deployed for large-scale surveillance—a mission at which drones excel.

According to the U.N., the UAVs will be used to “monitor the movement of armed groups” and the border between the Congo, Uganda and Rwanda. This should help fulfill the mission’s mandate to protect the civilian population, according to U.N. commander General Carlos Alberto Dos Santos Cruz.

Given the Congo’s history with outside intervention, the U.N. will likely also use the drones to gather intelligence on possible support for armed groups from neighboring countries. Both Rwanda and Uganda have an established history of supporting local armed groups to further their own political agenda.

Soldiers of the U.N. mission in eastern Congo. U.N./Sylvain Liechti photo

Drone expansion

If successful in the Congo, the deployment of UAVs for peacekeeping may soon become more common. There are several ongoing missions, especially in Africa, which would benefit from a drone’s special capabilities.

Places like Darfur, South Sudan and the Central African Republic are equally vast and difficult to patrol as Congo and peacekeeping forces there are even smaller than the 22,000-man force that is stationed in Goma and the rest of the country.

The deployment of UAVs is not the only experiment that the U.N. is currently running with its peacekeeping force in the Congo. The country’s east is also home to the Force Intervention Brigade, a unit of especially heavily-armed African peacekeepers.

FIB has recently engaged in unprecedented aggressive actions against Congolese armed groups, essentially forcing the M23, one of the region’s most established rebellion, to admit military defeat. The Falco drones fit well into the picture of the new and robust approach to peacekeeping, one that could also be described instead as “peace enforcement.”

Of course, the biggest problem plaguing U.N. peacekeeping missions is unlikely to be solved by drones. Even if aerial surveillance can help to keep taps on rebels and atrocities, you still need the manpower and resources to actually stop them. Too often, U.N. missions are not hamstrung by intelligence, but by too little political or financial commitment on parts of the troop-supplying countries and the veto-holding countries on the U.N. Security Council.

Drones are often employed on the promise that they can result in cheaper and safer missions. If this attitude takes hold in the U.N., civilians in the Congo and other African countries may actually become less safe as drones circle in the skies above.

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