The Ethiopian army has ordered unmanned aerial vehicles from Israeli manufacturer BlueBird Aero Systems, and has also contracted the company to establish maintenance facilities for the aircraft.
BlueBird specialises in small unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) for military and civilian markets. Its products include the MicroB, SkyLiteB, Boomerang and Blueye. Flight International reported last month that the deal involves a version of the Boomerang and SpyLite.
According to BlueBird, the Boomerang is a man-portable, catapult-launched UAV that is recovered by parachute. The fuel cell powered aircraft has a payload capacity of 2.5 kg and an endurance of three hours. The SpyLite is another small UAV, with the entire system weighing only 40 kg, making it transportable by a two-person team.
BlueBird could not be reached for comment at the time of going to press.
More and more African countries are looking into purchasing UAVs as a cost effective and less labour intensive way of monitoring long borders and infrastructure such as oil installations. In early February this year the Ugandan army signed a contract with another Israeli manufacturer, Aeronautics Defence Systems, for two Orbiter 2 UAVs.
The Orbiter 2 is another small UAV with a three metre wingspan and an endurance of 3.5 hours. Last year the type was selected by the Israeli navy for deployment aboard some of its vessels, Flight International reports.
Meanwhile, Angola could soon purchase Heron UAVs from Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) and is currently negotiating with the company. IAI has also been promoting the Heron in Africa and has conducted flight demonstrations in Angola and Kenya. However, IAI did not want to comment about its marketing efforts in Africa.
Angola has previously used another Israeli company to supply unmanned aerial systems. In 2003 Aeronautics Defence Systems supplied its Aerostar UAS to patrol oil installations for Chevron/Texaco over a two year period. The contract was reportedly worth US$4 million, according to E&P Magazine. The Aerostar carries a payload of up to 50 kg (110 lbs) and has an endurance of 14 hours.
The Heron 1 is a medium-altitude, long-endurance air vehicle designed to perform strategic reconnaissance and surveillance operations. Capable of automatic take-off and landing, it has a 30,000ft (9,150m) maximum altitude and can be fitted with a variety of payloads totalling 250 kg (550 lb), including infrared, visible light and radar surveillance systems. Communication with the ground is via line of sight data link or satellite/airborne relay.