Belgian army Israel Aerospace Industries B-Hunter UAVs were the target of sabotage during their deployment to the Democratic Republic of Congo capital of Kinshasa as part of European Union peace-keeping forces (EUFOR), according to a new Assembly of the Western European Union report.
The EU operations in the Democratic Republic of Congo report, released on 8 December, says that data cables between ground segments of the UAV system were interfered with during operations, although details remained limited.
Belgian army officials advised WEU defence committee members visiting Kinshasa at the end of November that they had encountered “local acts of sabotage of the optical cables needed for the launch and recovery operations”, the report says.
It separately advises that a B-Hunter involved in a fatal accident on 5 October while taking off was the result of “a technical failure during operations”. The accident killed one woman and is the subject of ongoing investigations by Belgian authorities, examining why the aircraft simultaneously lost power in both engines. That investigation includes examination of operator actions and procedures in the lead-up to and during the take-off.
B-Hunter flight operations were suspended after the 5 October incident, but were resumed following initial review by the Belgian air force and EUFOR officials.
The Belgian army lost an initial UAV to small arms fire from a lone gunman during final approach to Kinshasa’s N’Dolo airport on 28 July. A replacement for that aircraft was deployed in early August.
The WEU report says the UAVs played an important role in providing intelligence to the EUFOR operation overseeing national elections, however gunfire incident directly affected the broader performance of the B-Hunter for the duration of the deployment. “They were vulnerable, as demonstrated by the fact that one of them was shot down by light weapons during their first flights As a result their flight altitude had to be increased, with consequences for the quality of the data gathered. Since they are relatively large…they are easily detected and, moreover, they are unarmed”.
The B-Hunter detachment carried out its final flights on 29 November, with the EUFOR mandate ending on 30 November. The WEU report says that of the three remaining air vehicles in theatre at that time, only two were operational by that date. The Belgian army sent a replacement air vehicle to Kinshasa in August to replace the unit shot down.