Thursday 21 October 2021

From Mohajer-6s To Wing Loong Is - Listing Ethiopia’s Growing Drone Arsenal

By Stijn Mitzer and Joost Oliemans
In an effort to turn the tide in the ongoing Tigray War, Ethiopia has invested heavily in the acquisition of unmanned (combat) aerial vehicles from a number of countries around the world. After years of disregard of modern developments worldwide, the Ethiopian Air Force found itself caught in a conflict with no aircraft that could deploy precision-guided munitions (save for one Su-25TK), allowing Tigray forces to freely roam the battlefield and operate the large quantities of heavy weaponry it managed to capture from government forces. [1]

Unfortunately for the Ethiopian National Defence Force (ENDF), the heavy weaponry captured by Tigray forces even included guided multiple rocket launchers and ballistic missiles, which they subsequently used to strike two air bases in Ethiopia and even the capital of Eritrea. [2] [3] Although one would expect the ENDF to have initiated a crash acquisition programme for UCAVs, it would take until August 2021 until the first evidence of a (true) UCAV acquisition surfaced. Interestingly, rather than purchasing the Chinese-made Wing Loongs it was previously reported to operate, Ethiopia instead took possession of two Mohajer-6s from Iran. [4]
Given the large variety of UCAV platforms available nowadays, the decision to opt for the Mohajer-6 (and then only two of them) is a curious one. With its low flight ceiling the type is vulnerable to ground fire, whereas the low quality of its FLIR turret and the fact that the drone itself is largely unproven in combat could result in poor efficacy. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the Mohajer-6's operational career in Ethiopia appears to have been largely unsuccessful so far, with both systems currently grounded owing to their poor operational performance. [6]
Ethiopia was thus forced to continue its search for more effective UCAVs, ultimately acquiring Wing Loong Is from China and reportedly a (yet unspecified) type of UCAV from Turkey. [5] Months earlier, Ethiopia had already acquired a large VTOL type of UCAV that is armed with two 120mm mortar rounds, deploying these in the Maychew area of Ethiopia's Tigray Region. [7] However, these rotary-type UCAVs provide little of the capabilities of true UCAVs like the Wing Loong I. Considering the pivotal role UCAVs are likely to play in the Tigray War, and Ethiopia's efforts in acquiring them, these and other UCAVs might not even be the last types to be acquired.


- This list only includes UAVs that are confirmed to be in service in Ethiopia.

(Click on the UAV to get a picture of them in Ethiopian service)

Surveillance Unmanned Aerial Vehicles

Unmanned Combat Aerial Vehicles

Trainer Unmanned Aerial Vehicles

Agriculture Unmanned Aerial Vehicles


[1] The Tigray Defence Forces - Documenting Its Heavy Weaponry
[2] From Friend To Foe: Ethiopia’s Chinese AR2 MRLs
[3] Go Ballistic: Tigray’s Forgotten Missile War With Ethiopia and Eritrea
[5] Wing Loong Is Over Ethiopia: Chinese UCAVs Join The Battle For Tigray
[6] Information received by the authors from a mechanic working for Ethiopia's Dejen Aviation Engineering Industry (DAVI)

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