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U.S. Expanding Drone Ops With a New African Base

by John Reed on October 28, 2011

So, the U.S. has opened up a new drone base in Africa to aid in the hunt for terror suspects in places like Somalia.

Apparently, the Air Force has built a miltimillion dollar facility to host MQ-9 Reaper drones at a tiny airstrip in Arba Minch, Ethiopia. The Washington Post is reporting that the facility was built to help hunt for al Qaeda affiliate, al Shabab, in East Africa and that the base’s MQ-9s have already been used over Somalia.

However, the base is located far inland in southeast Ethiopia and is much closer to South Sudan, Uganda and Kenya than it is to Somalia. Who is operating in South Sudan, Uganda and other central African nations? Those 100 or so “combat equipped” U.S. troops who are helping the Ugandan military hunt down the leaders of the Lord’s Resistance Army — a “rebel” group that has terrorized the civilian population of central Africa for decades.

The still-under-construction base has been operational for months now with a staff of American airmen supporting the unarmed (for now) Reapers flying ISR missions, the Air Force told the Post.

This is the first I’ve heard of a U.S. base so far inside Africa. We’ve got Camp Lemonier in Djibouti that serves as the hub of operations against terrorists in the Horn of Africa — especially in Somalia and across the Gulf of Aden in Yemen– and we’re reportedly building a handful of additional drone airfields in the Horn of Africa. We also fly drones from the Seychelles (as shown in the pic above) and ships off the Somali coast. Keep in mind that U.S. operators routinely visit African nations throughout the Sahara desert region to train and assist local militaries in their fight against al Qaeda in the Maghreb. Still, I haven’t heard of any permanent U.S. bases in these nations.

Here’s the post’s description of the Ethiopian facility:

Travelers who have passed through the Arba Minch airport on the occasional civilian flights that land there said the U.S. military has erected a small compound on the tarmac, next to the terminal.

The compound is about half an acre in size and is surrounded by high fences, security screens and lights on extended poles. The U.S. military personnel and contractors eat at a cafe in the passenger terminal, where they are served American-style food, according to travelers who have been there.

These events are an expansion (at least publicly, such ops may have been going on for years without being announced) of the Pentagon’s low-profile operations in Africa. Plenty of people have asking; why are we now publicly announcing that U.S. troops are chasing the LRA and that we’re building airfields in Africa after years of Pentagon being very wary of too much publicity for its African ops? Could the Pentagon’s interests in Africa have grown beyond simply fighting Islamic terrorists to fighting destabilizing insurgencies across the continent? Or maybe these moves are meant to check increased Chinese influence on the continent? This is pure speculation, there could be a ton of answers to this question. Sound off in the comments.

 

 

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{ 29 comments… read them below or add one }

Musson1 October 28, 2011 at 2:00 pm

I bet if you were on the ground you would see some UAV's that are manned by american pilots. This story makes a great cover story.

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SJE October 28, 2011 at 2:07 pm

Killing Joseph Kony and dismantling the LRA would be good for the entire region, and would get us a lot of friends.

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Prodozul October 28, 2011 at 2:13 pm

hmmm…a miltimillion dollar base sounds awfully steep :/

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JE McKellar October 28, 2011 at 2:19 pm

Why the need to put drone pilots on-the-ground in-country? Isn't the whole point to keep US personnel out of harm's way, and reduce the political liabilities of our host countries?

Maybe we need to resurrect an old idea, airship aircraft carriers like the old Akron. They could loiter on-station for months, and deploy and recover small, short-range UAV's, all out of range of small-arms, IED's, and lawyers.

But then again, without an actual base, we don't get to bribe local rulers with the construction contracts.

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TMB October 28, 2011 at 2:29 pm

1. Not all of the UAVs we use are satellite-guided. A few of them (mostly Army) are piloted by radio signals.

2. Where in the article did it say there were pilots on the ground?

3. An airbase is required because these things need a support and maintenance staff just like any other aircraft.

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IKnowMoreThanU October 30, 2011 at 1:05 am

Aircrew are still required downrange to man the ground stations. SO out of harms way is a misnomer

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turtleairships October 28, 2011 at 4:06 pm

Yes, we need to create new lighter-than-air craft for both offensive and defensive roles. (NOT BLIMPS!) new designs/materials can result in hugely capable aircraft. Much faster than historic airships, all weather, stealthy as B-2 if wanted. Able to lift 500 tons. Solar/fuel cell powered unlimited range and linger capabilty. Totaly VTOL no need for hangars/masts/groundcrews.

see: militaryairships dot blogspot dot com

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Thomas L. Nielsen October 31, 2011 at 8:46 am

Right….And this is relevant to the U.S. expanding their drone ops in Africa how?

Regards & all,

Thomas L. Nielsen
Luxembourg

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turtleairships October 31, 2011 at 2:21 pm

Hello Mr. Nielsen
My comment regarding airships (re: "drone ops in Africa"); was made in response to JE McKeller's prior observation about airship aircraft carriers…

" Maybe we need to resurrect an old idea, airship aircraft carriers like the old Akron. They could loiter on-station for months, and deploy and recover small, short-range UAV's,….."

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Thomas L. Nielsen November 1, 2011 at 5:47 am

Understood, I missed that reference.

Regards & all,

Thomas L. Nielsen
Luxembourg

blight October 31, 2011 at 2:31 pm

There's still that caveat about how big the canopy is to displace 500 tons. The difference in air density between air and helium isn't that much, and to get 500 tons of buoyancy will be a large target, and making it LO at the same time presents additional design wrinkles.

Perhaps there will also be helium-refuelling in the air. The United States has a pretty large helium supply, after all…

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Thomas L. Nielsen November 1, 2011 at 5:43 am

IIRC, the US pretty much has a monopoly on helium production, and there is indeed a reasonably large supply of the stuff. However, that supply is dwindling all the time, and it is limited. So anyone planning large-scale aerostat use had better bet on hydrogen or politicians.

Regards & all,

Thomas L. Nielsen
Luxembourg

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@Earlydawn October 28, 2011 at 2:53 pm

Distributed drone bases are the first step towards a high-speed, distributed Special Operations land posture.

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STemplar October 28, 2011 at 3:26 pm

The article says they upgraded the existing civilian airport. Looking it up it is about a 750 foot asphalt runway. Looking up the town pretty much explains the location.

The runway existing would easily accommodate US cargo planes.

We only had to upgrade as opposed to build from scratch.

It lies on what passes for a major highway.

Most importantly the human element, it is the southwestern HQ if you will for the Lutheran church in Ethiopia so it Islamist averse I'm sure and presents less of a force protection issue.

Just my two cents.

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STemplar October 28, 2011 at 3:26 pm

F-in zero button. 7500 foot runway.

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MandB October 28, 2011 at 3:57 pm

I've just remeasured it at 8800 feet of asphalt with a 400×300 foot ramp. All in all a good runway by regional standards and plenty for C-130 resupply. Location is good with around 500 nms to both Kismayo and Mogadishu. 'Tiny airstrip' – afraid not.

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blight October 28, 2011 at 11:04 pm
bevel450 October 28, 2011 at 4:21 pm

Is that an aux fuel tank on the wing or a mission payload ?

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shark127 March 19, 2012 at 7:40 pm

According to AFRICOM PAO Vince Crawley:
"The object is part of the sensor payload. Fuel is carried internally on the aircraft. We'll check once folks are back in their offices to see if there's anything more we can add. "

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Will October 28, 2011 at 5:26 pm

If you're going to set up shop next to a civie airport you're better off announcing what's going on than let the rumor mill create some nefarious plot.

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Oil October 28, 2011 at 5:55 pm

Africa is basically untouched and for Africa to be part of the global community we have to be 2 steps ahead of emerging threats. A region like Africa will be a region that terrorist can materialize and spread havoc by inserting ourselves there now and not later we have a head start. Also as Afghanistan and Iraq wind down to keep these uav Need not be in storage collecting dust. There are many pros for setting up these bases in Africa that will not only benefit American interest but global interest.

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CountDeMonet October 28, 2011 at 7:04 pm

Actually we are behind the curve in Africa. Not much is mention in the media about the expansion of Chinese civil and military operations in the Africa (that is except last sentence in the article).

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MandB October 29, 2011 at 9:16 am

The Chinese are very active in Africa on a commercial/economic scale but I'm not aware of ANY military involvement. Please expand.

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TMB October 29, 2011 at 4:23 pm

At least one Chinese warship was doing pirate patrols off the coast over the last year.

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MandB October 31, 2011 at 6:03 am

That is not a military operation in Africa.

STemplar October 29, 2011 at 4:52 pm

There's a couple thousand troops assigned to various peacekeeping missions in Africa. They've done some training missions as well.

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morriswise October 28, 2011 at 7:58 pm

Killing a terrorist or dissident is not difficult for the guy using a drone viewer. The person in front of a crowd is the suspect; the viewer is right 99% of the time.

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elie May 8, 2012 at 3:32 am

I don’t understand why this info is being published. You are putting at risk the life of these Americans and I’m sure their family don’t appreciate it. Stupid stupid morron! How dare you??! I hope is not any of your fam member having a meal at that soo well discribed place! So so ignorant!

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article March 20, 2014 at 4:53 am

Quick cooking lentils make a great last minute chili, and yellow or green split peas can make a soup without soaking all night. Vegan and products labeled gluten free are readily available.

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