The 13-month-long Ethiopian war against the Tigray rebels in the north has recently been tilting in favor of the Abiy Ahmed government, thanks to the use of drones procured from some friendly countries.
The Ethiopian military has reportedly captured strategic towns with the help of early intelligence and airpower owing to these armed drones, allowing it to secure a significant military edge against the rebels forces that had earlier vowed to “drive out” enemies.
The government’s counteroffensive against fighters from northern Tigray has achieved significant progress, reversing the Tigrayan forces’ recent remarkable victories in their push southwards, reported Al Jazeera.
— Emmanuel Woods (@gbezohn) December 11, 2021
The important cities of Dessie and Kombolcha were recaptured by Ethiopia’s combined security forces this week, the latest in a string of combat successes since Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed announced last month that he would head to the front lines and urged Ethiopians to join the fight.
With only 22 combat-capable aircraft, Ethiopia’s tiny Air force appears to have realized that airpower and timely intelligence may make all the difference in a fight, especially one fought over vast and sometimes hilly terrain like that in Ethiopia’s north where the Tigray rebels hold a clear sway, politically and militarily.
It is believed that Ahmed’s administration has reached out to countries producing low-cost drones in recent months in the hopes of using air power to reverse the tide in its favor.
According to earlier reports, Chinese Wing Loong 2 unarmed aerial vehicles had been photographed in Ethiopian military bases. The government has also sought a number of Bayraktar TB2 drones from Turkey. Additionally, a study in August uncovered significant evidence that Iranian armed drones, together with their ground control stations, had been spotted at Ethipoi’s Semera Airport.
China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi recently visited Addis Ababa and stated unequivocally that Beijing completely supports the Ethiopian government.
The Ethiopian National Defense Forces (ENDF) are also receiving weapons from China, notably armed, medium-altitude, long-endurance Wing Loong 2 drones. Designed by Chengdu Aircraft Design & Research Institute (CADI), a part of China’s Aviation Industry Corporation, the drone has a longer range and can carry more weaponry (AVIC).
The Wing Loong 2, which is equipped with a variety of armaments, has the ability to perform combat operations in addition to civilian missions including disaster assessment, meteorological operations, and environmental protection.
Data transmission between the UAV and the ground control station is facilitated by a satellite communications antenna positioned on the bulge at the top front surface of the fuselage.
Wing Loong 2 can also carry armaments. To strike and destroy air or ground-based targets, the unmanned combat aerial vehicle can be outfitted with a range of weaponry, including laser-guided bombs and missiles.
It can fly higher than the Turkish drones that are also used by the ENDF and stay out of range of most anti-aircraft weapons, flying deep into enemy territory in search of command and control centers, ammunition dumps, and reporting back to base, and destroying high-value targets with precision missiles or heavier bombs.
The Wing Loong 2 can serve as a target designator for Chinese-made short-range ballistic missiles. It can destroy high-value targets including headquarters and command posts with its 480kg (1,058lb) warhead.
All these capabilities make it ideal for the Ethiopian forces that do not possess advanced reconnaissance aircraft that can carry out precise IRS operations. These advanced Chinese drones allow the ENDF to track down the movement of Tigray rebels, locate control and command centers and destroy targets of interest.
Of late, China, Turkey, Iran have almost completely replaced UAE as the main military supplier to Ethiopia. The UAE has long been seen as an American proxy in Africa by the Chinese. Being a significant military partner to Ethiopia could also be seen as China’s attempt to expand its footprint in the African continent.
Turkish & Iranian Drones
Ethiopia has also deployed the Turkish Bayraktar, a medium-altitude and long-endurance (MALE) drone. Earlier, reports had emerged that Turkey was negotiating deals with Ethiopia and Morocco after these drones had proved their mettle in global conflict zones, including the Nagorno-Karabakh war last year.
The Bayraktar TB2 doesn’t carry a lot of weaponry, neither it moves move very fast, yet these drones could prove very lethal on the battlefield.
The drones’ slow flight speed allows them to stay in the air for hours, focusing on details that reconnaissance planes would struggle to spot. Because of their short range, they can return to base swiftly for refueling and rearmament, and be back over the target area in a matter of hours.
Multiple drones can be flown simultaneously, allowing for a near-constant presence over the battle-space, making surprise tactics by one’s opponent considerably less likely to succeed.
Each Bayraktar TB2 system comprises six aerial vehicles, two ground control stations (GCS), three ground data terminals (GDTs), two remote video terminals (RVTs), and ground support equipment. It can carry a payload of 150kg and can fly at any time of day or night.
The TB2’s significant role in three recent conflicts – western Libya, northern Syria, and Nagorno-Karabakh — demonstrated their capabilities as well as the evolution of drones from useful counterterrorism tools to battlefield weaponry. These drones have acted decisively in the fight against Tigray forces.
Besides China and Turkey, Iran has also supplied UAVs to Ethiopia. Images of the combat drone at Semera Airport in Ethiopia had earlier been obtained by the Bellingcat investigative website.
The Iranian The Mohajer-6 combat drone has a restricted range, but it can nevertheless assist Ethiopian army troops by feeding intelligence on enemy activities and destroying vehicles with its guided Qaim bombs, if spotted.
Semara is the capital of the Afar province of Ethiopia, which borders the Tigray area, where government forces are fighting the Tigray Defense Forces (TDF).
The Mohajer-6 is a tactical-combat drone that can perform a number of military and civilian duties. The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and the Army of the Islamic Republic of Iran own the UAV.
The operational range of this “remote-controlled bird” is about 2,000 kilometers, and it can carry 40 kg of weaponry. The Mohajer-6 has a top speed of 200 km/h and can transport two smart bombs as well as a vertical optical-thermal point-and-shoot under its wings.
While the US is unwilling to share advanced technology, regional competitors have stepped in to produce armed drones that, while not as effective, can nonetheless shift the tide and become decisive weapons in any modern fight.
Countries like China and Turkey have rushed to fill the vacuum that has shown results on the Ethiopian battlefield and dealt decisive blows to the Tigray forces.