Friday, 15 October 2021

Fighting Erosion: A German Drone In Ethiopia

By Stijn Mitzer and Joost Oliemans

Ethiopia's last acquisition of (unmanned) aircraft before the commencement of the Tigray War in November 2020 are not the Wing Loong IIs UCAVs the country is so often reported to have deployed during the early stages of the conflict. Instead, the last (unmanned) aircraft it acquired was a single German Trinity F9 eVTOL UAV received as a gift from the German government in October 2020. [1] Although supposed to be the first of three drones that were to be donated to Ethiopia's Ministry of Agriculture to help it in areas of natural resources protection, only one F9 was delivered before the German Development Cooperation was halted from supplying the other two drones after the the Tigray War broke out in November 2020 [2]
Of course, a possible military end use was likely the last thing the German government had envisioned when it planned on donating the three Trinity F9s worth 84.000 Euros to Ethiopia in October 2020. To prevent the use of the drone for military purposes, the single F9 delivered was restricted in its flight range from some 5km to less than 1km. [2] While the 1km range is plentiful for its intended civilian purposes in the agricultural sector, it makes it next to useless for use in military operations such as mapping areas that are currently under enemy control.
The available camera options of the Trinity F9 eVTOL (electric vertical takeoff and landing) make it an ideal tool for collecting geological information and land surface imagery data from the air. These feats also make the F9 UAS well-suited for imaging soil erosion, which is one of the biggest (natural) dangers currently facing Ethiopia. After the F9's delivery to Ethiopia, it took until October 2021 before permission was finally granted to use the drone jointly with Ethiopian agricultural institutions far away from the Tigray Region in the Somali Region of Ethiopia. [2]

Presumably prompted by a lack of more suitable drone types for use during the early stages of the Tigray War, the Ethiopian Air Force acquired several 'civilian drone types' from other government branches that had originally been acquired with civilian purposes in mind. Three of these, comprising the ZT-3V, HW-V230 and DJI Mavic 2, were taken over from the Ethiopian Federal Police (EPF). [4] Interestingly, rather than quietly accepting the systems into service, the ENDF instead claimed that the drones were indigenously designed rather than systems previously acquired from China. [5]

The designer and producer of the Trinity F9, Quantum Systems, mostly markets its products to the civilian market, although the Dutch Army is currently trialling the Trinity F90+ UAS (the successor to the Trinity F9) for use with its pathfinder units.

A Trinity F90+ UAS undergoing evalution with the Dutch Army.

Currently engaged in a conflict where UAVs play a decisive role, it is not unthinkable that the Ethiopian Air Force is highly interested in a platform that offers similiar capabilities as the Trinity F9 eVTOL for military roles such as mapping terrain ahead of military offensives. Given their short range and endurance, their effectiveness in this role would likely be limited however.

[1] Germany donates unmanned aerial vehicles (drones) to Ethiopia
[2] Conversation with the Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit Program Manager for Strengthening Drought Resilience ASAL (Afar and Somali Region)
[4] Made In China: Ethiopia’s Fleet Of Chinese UAVs
[5] Chief Commander of the Ethiopian Air Force, Maj. Gen. Yilma Merda.#Ethiopia #Tigray(Courtesy of EBC)