UAV capability should provide long endurance and be able to fly long range missions to the point of interest, loiter on patrol and return to base. While the initial deployment of UAS will operate in a particular UN Mission, future implementation could be in any peacekeeping mission.
These UAVs should support an endurance of extended missions and be able to operate at an altitude of 10,000 feet above ground, equipped with stabilized electro-optical/infrared (EO/IR) payloads and synthetic aperture radar imagery.
The Swedish Eagles in Timbuktu will soon be augmented with the introduction of Israeli Hermes 900 drones, to be operated by Thales UK – the partner of Hermes original manufacturer Elbit Systems. Thales will deliver and operate three Hermes 900 unmanned aircraft from Timbuktu, along with two mission control systems. This package will enable the peacekeepers to maintain two drones airborne simultaneously. The Hermes 900 will be carrying multiple payloads, comprising EO/IR and synthetic aperture radar (SAR), supporting operations in all weather conditions.
Later this year, the German forces will also arrive at Gao, in South-Eastern Mali, with Heron 1 drones leased from Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI). These UAVs will extend the mission endurance of drones, expanding their reach over hundreds of kilometers from the bases. The Herons will be operated in Mali by Airbus Defense & Space, in a similar operational concept practiced in Afghanistan since 2010. Unlike the Thales plan, the Herons will be operated by German military personnel. The 18-month deployment will begin in November 2016.
By leasing the Herons, rather than committing its own drones, the Bundeswehr maintains the high availability and operational flexibility of its drone fleet, regarding contract duration. Moreover, the leased units are fully compatible and interoperable within NATO. Other Heron I systems were also operated in central Africa by the French Air Force.
The UN is expected to select another supplier for UAVs to succeed the Falco drones in Gome. The new tender calls for Medium Altitude, Long Endurance (MALE) drone to replace the current tactical Unmanned Aerial Systems (TUAS). The winner will receive a contract to supply a UAV system comprised of up to five units, two ground control systems and support for three year-mission plus options for further extensions.
As unmanned systems are becoming part of peacekeeping operations, nations delivering such assets are claiming to become ‘technology contributing countries,’ just as the countries sending troops are recognized (and compensated) as ‘troop contributing countries.’ Some may support a detachment of drones by service members, while others, would opt for sending the systems and hire contractors to operate them. Some worry it might exacerbate the problem of ‘two-tier peacekeeping’ – that is, expand the technological gap between ‘have’ and ‘have-not’ countries.
As peace operations seek to become better technologically equipped, leading countries are needed to assist and mentor the peacekeepers unaccustomed to advanced technology.