It is time for Africa to use drone technology for their commercial and military purposes

Drone for AfricaJust a few countries now hold membership in the elite drone club, including the US, United Kingdom, Russia, Israel, Iran, Pakistan and China. Other countries, such as South Africa and India, are actively seeking to join. According to the RAND organization, however, another 23 countries “are developing or have developed” armed drones.

Experts point to China’s prowess in building knockoff drones, which are expected to flood the market very soon. China currently has over 900 different types of drones, ranging from micro, blimps, unmanned combat air vehicles, and rotary-wing UAV

“Once countries like China start exporting these, they’re going to be everywhere really quickly. Within the next 10 years, every country will have these,” Noel Sharkey, a robotics and artificial intelligence professor from the University of Sheffield, UK, told Defence One. Anything you can [legally] do with a fighter jet, you can do with a drone.”

In contrast Africa where technology is always very slow to reach the masses, perhaps, this time they should catch up one technology which is cheaper and very cost effective. The potential of drone technology is so immense, especially private companies can use in urban and rural area, provided they have the means to run the technology, such as electricity or perhaps solar system drones which is cost effective to run the technology efficiently.

Perhaps, if African countries take seriously about this emerging technology, they could use it against terrorism, and transport medical equipments to their often accident prone roads to save lives and even use to fight against locust swarm which destroys crops and animal habitat by spraying remotely on pesticide chemicals..

On the other hand, countries like Somalia and Nigeria can make use of drones technology to fight against the so called terrorist groups like Al Shabab and Boko Haram, in fact most developing countries including Asia sub continent could benefit in one way or the other to fight crimes, road traffic problems and can even be used to deliver small packages in urban and rural cities. All this can be monitored and guided in a small screen 100 miles away from its destination, with nothing to worry, in case it crushes or shot down, except losing few hundred dollars or maximum few thousand.

Most people when they hear drones, the only concept they have is of being very elaborate and expensive drone planes loaded with expensive weaponry, mostly used by American military in Afghanistan or Israeli against freedom fighters of Hamas and Hizbullah, surprising the later one even developed their own inexpensive drone technology to counter Israeli’s aggression in Lebanon. But as America’s military campaigns winds down in Afghanistan and elsewhere, these machines are coming home and set to change civilian lives forever.

“This is a powerful technology and no amount of hand-wringing is going to stop it”, says drone expert, Peter Singer. Whether it’s a floating TV station streaming live to the web, the prying lens of the paparazzi, the police chasing a criminal or a government agency spying, small domestic drones are experiencing an exponential growth. At the world’s largest drone convention in Las Vegas a salesman tells the crowd, “This can be used in law enforcement, disaster relief and industrial applications. And as the technology advances at a frightening speed, anyone with a few hundred dollars can buy one over the counter. These hobby drones can fly for miles and provide sharp video feedback to the pilot.

In the Horn of Africa, drones can be used in border areas of between Kenya and Somalia, Somaliland and Puntland, and between Somalia and Ethiopia for terrorist infiltrations and other disputes that can create instability. All this shows how technology designed for the battlefield is already crossing into civilian use. Experts at the aerospace consultancy ‘’Teal Group’’ see the global market for civil drones accelerating by the end of the decade, rising from sales of about $60 million last year to $900m by 2020. And the EU wants drone flights to be fully integrated into civilian airspace by 2028.

All this predicts a hope for Africa and the rest of the world to be part of new technology that have huge potential in pilotless aircraft, whereby it’s difficult to purchase or maintain an expensive aircrafts to support their armies and wage war on terrorist of all types.

The internet giant google last month announced its purchase of Titan Aerospace, a maker of solar to hard-to-reach places. Three months ago Facebook bought the team behind Ascenta, a solar-powered drone company in Somerset, as part of chief executive Mark Suckerberg’s plans to powered drones, which it plans to use to bring the internet to remote parts of the world. Titan’s aircraft, which still in development are expected to hover 65,000ft above the earth as ‘’atmospheric satellites’’, well above passenger jets and weather systems, beaming broadband internet to the earth below. The drone has a 50m wingspan and is expected to stay airborne for up to five years. Facebook also wants to use drones to deliver the internet build drones, satellites and laser to deliver the internet to everyone.

Drones range from small radio-controlled aircraft capable of ascending a few hundred feet to Northrop Grumman’s Global Hawk surveillance aircraft, which has a 131ft wingspan and can fly to 60,000ft. Call them unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), remotely piloted air systems (RPASS) or unmanned air systems (UASs), expert reckon drones could transform services ranging from delivering freight to surveying crops. Power companies already use them to survey overhead lines and inspect flares at oil refineries. They can also be used disaster zones, for example, Grumman’s Global Hawk supported relief efforts after Typhoon Haiyan struck the Philippines, relaying images of roads and survivors to teams on the ground.

They can get into dirty and dangerous places, said Nick Miller, business director for UAVs at Thales. The company leads Astraea’s ‘’sense and avoid’’ work, which’s vital if drones are to share airspace with passenger jets without colliding. But, unlike Europe and USA, where airspace sharing is too tight, perhaps Africa can use their empty airspace to its maximum advantage.

Drones will be hugely beneficial to Africans countries like Somaliland which doesn’t have any military or civilian aircrafts for surveying relieve and rescue missions on land and sea. This technology can also be used to fight terrorism, piracy and other rebellious insurgencies fighting against the government. Even more importantly, drones technology can be used to fight against the diseases and locust plaque destroying crops in the third world.

Some experts are already predicting that robots and drones will replace infantry soldiers in the next fifty years, but in reality, what worrying us all, is the danger of terrorist folks getting their hands on the technology, and misusing it for their advantage. Let’s be frank, nowadays any groups having grievance against their own government can be automatically classified as a terrorist. Therefore, terrorist groups who may be tempted to use drones to commit suicide, is something every government should be aware of it. Imagine how easy it is to murder a president by using remote controlled drones with very light explosions.

For a quite a while now there has been cross-border drone movement in the opposite direction with Hezbullah and Israel sending unarmed aerial vehicle (UAV) to survey and monitor each other. One such drones has been shot down recently over Israel’s Negev desert, and according to Hizbullah secretary general Hassan Nasrallah, the drone was an Iranian model assembled in Lebanon and was called Ayoub, after one of the organisation’s martyrs or Shahid.

Pakistan’s tribal region of Waziristan, constantly watched and regularly bombarded by US military drones, has been called the most dangerous place on earth. The relentless assault exacts a huge psychological toll on the people who live there. The US missile attack destroys militant training compounds and cars, but they also hit Mosques, homes, religious schools and civilian people. This causes fear, stress and depression for tribal communities; the drones do not suddenly appear over the horizon and carry out the attack and leave. At any given time of the day, at least four are hovering in the sky, emitting a distinctive and menacing sound, the locals call it ‘’mosquitoes’’ because of their constant buzzing noise.

Suffice to say this light and inexpensive technology is a must for the future of Africa, especially when it comes to security and other military purposes

Ali Dhinbiil