DRC drones take to the sky for the first time


Another component of the UN’s ongoing efforts to bring peace to the troubled DRC came into play today when UAVs were launched in Goma for the first time as an additional surveillance tool.

Herve Ladsous, head of peacekeeping for the world body, was in the eastern DRC city to witness the latest addition to the peacekeeping arsenal take to the skies.

MONUSCO, the UN Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), is on record as saying the UAVs are an “important new tool to assist in fulfilling its mandate to protect civilians”.

Ladsous said the UAVs are high technology systems that will allow better knowledge of what is happening on the ground. “This, in turn, will allow forces on the ground to do a better job,” he said.

MONUSCO brigade commander General Carlos Alberto Dos Santos Cruz said in October he expected to UAVs to be providing 24 hour surveillance by March next year.

He told Agence France Presse the UAVs would be based at Goma for at least five months and use of them would then be increased.

This is the first time the UN is using UAVs and, if trial surveillance use by peacekeepers in eastern DRC is successful, officials and diplomats are cautiously optimistic the unmanned platforms could be put in service by UN missions in South Sudan and the Ivory Coast.

The unarmed Falco medium altitude, medium endurance UAVs have been sourced from Italian company Selex ES following the signing of a commercial contract with the UN in July.

Expectations are the UAVs will make a major difference in surveillance in the eastern DRC where thick forests, rugged terrain and a scarcity of roads combine to make it difficult for ground-based troops to mount accurate observation.

Speaking ahead of today’s first UAV launch, Ladsous said there had been progress in creating a situation where civilians were at less risk than when particularly M23 rebels had been active.

The arrival of three South African Rooivalk combat support helicopters to augment the Force Intervention Brigade (FIB) has been termed by some military commentators as the decisive intervention which forced M23 to retreat from its fortified positions on high ground outside Goma.

Ladsous sees the UAVs as further bolstering the Mission’s ability to protect civilians.

UN estimates are that at least 100 000 people have been displaced by fighting this year alone with 2.6 million people in total displaced by fighting between DRC forces and various rebels elements over the year.