Thursday 2 December 2021

Algiers Calling: Assessing Algeria’s Drone Fleet

By Stijn Mitzer and Joost Oliemans

Algeria is notoriously secretive when it comes to devulging details about its arms acquisitions and current inventory of weapons systems. It is thus all the more surprising that quite a lot of information regarding the types of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) purchased and operated by Algeria is publicly available. This reveals a highly diverse inventory of (armed) drones sourced from China, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), South Africa and a number of other countries. In recent years, Algeria has also designed several types of indigenous drones. While promising, these projects have yet to spawn an operational system. Most of Algeria's UAVs are currently based at Ain Oussera air base located 200 km south of the capital Algiers.

An interest in the operations of UAVs by Algeria is believed to have commenced in the mid-1990s, eventually resulting in the acquisition of some ten Denel Dynamics Seeker IIs from South Africa a few years later. [1] These drones for a long time constituted the only type of UAV in Algerian service. Still, the Seeker IIs offered superior performance over Morocco's R4E SkyEyes, while neighbouring Libya for a long time did not operate any UAVs at all. [2] New developments in the 2010s rejuvenated Algerian interest in the acquisition of further UAV capabilities, yet it would take until the late 2010s before new systems were actually purchased.
This time Algiers turned to China for the acquisition of unmanned combat aerial vehicles (UCAVs). These initially consisted of the CH-3A type procured from the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC), later supplemented by the more capable CH-4B from the same company. Unfortunately, little to no information regarding to the numbers received by Algeria is available. What is known is that the Algerian Air Force lost three CH-4Bs to crashes in a matter of months. [3] Two of these crashes took place in the trial phase of the system in Algeria. Intriguingly, this was apparently not enough to dissuade Algeria from pressing on with the acquisition of the CH-4B.

An Algerian CH-4B UCAV.

Around the same time as the Chinese-made UCAVs began entering operational service, the Algerian Air Force also procured a pair of odd-looking drone types from UAE-based drone manufacturer Adcom Systems. The Yabhon Flash 20 and Yabhon United 40, designated as the El-Djazair-55 and El-Djazair-54 in Algeria, are believed to have entered service in Algeria in 2018. Rather than directly procuring these systems from Adcom, Algeria claims the drones are in fact locally built. [4] What both types arguably lack in looks, they make up in payload capacity, with up to ten hardpoints for Nimrod air-to-ground missiles or 120mm free-fall mortar rounds. Additionally, the United 40 can be equipped with a six-unit rotating dispenser mounted in the fuselage or mount a synthetic-aperture radar (SAR).

In addition to assembling Emirati UCAVs of the Yabhon series, Algeria also has a limited R&D capability for military-grade drones. Most of the country's ongoing drone projects are run by the Research Center in Industrial Technologies (CRTI), which so far has designed at least five UAVs of the Amel series. Although most of these drones are unlikely to ever enter active service with the Algerian military, the experience gained in their design could one day give rise to a truly indigenous U(C)AV. Alternatively, Algiers could skip the design process by acquiring a license to produce other designs from the UAE, of course at the cost of a truly indigenous local technology base.

The indigenous CRTI Amel 2-700 during tests.

In September 2021 it was reported that Algeria had placed an order for 24 Wing Loong II UCAVs from China. [5] As Algeria rarely comments on arms purchases, the first confirmation that such an acquisition indeed took place will likely only occur once the systems are spotted on an Algerian air base. In the meantime, the Algerian Air Force might continue to assemble additional Yabhon Flash 20 and United 40 UCAVs while also devoting more resources into advancing the designs of its indigenous systems. Whether this will be enough to keep pace with developments in Morocco remains to be seen, and the acquisition of further drone capabilities such as loitering munitions doesn't seem unlikely.

Surveillance Unmanned Aerial Vehicles

Unmanned Combat Aerial Vehicles

Target Drones

Indigenous UAVs (Prototypes)

U(C)AVs reportedly on order

  • CAIG Wing Loong II (Up to 24 systems reportedly ordered in 2021)

[2] Operating From The Shadows: Morocco’s UAV Fleet
[5] Algeria To Receive A New Squadron Of Advanced Drones

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