The Belgian defence force has resumed flying operations in the Democratic Republic of Congo with its Israel Aircraft Industries / Belgian Hunter Consortium B-Hunter UAVs after the loss of one aircraft, shot down by a local gunman using a Kalashnikov AK-47.
The UAVs have been deployed by Belgium as part of the European peace keeping force Congo (EUFOR Congo), based in Kinshasa.
The UAV was completing a 3h shakedown sortie on 28 July when it passed over marshlands at 1,300ft (400m) near Kinshasa’s N’Dolo airport, where EURFOR Congo is based.
EURFOR Congo media spokesman Lt Col Peter Fuss, from the German army, says that the incident is being treated as a “lucky shot” by a lone gunman: “A single guy with a criminal background,” rather than as rebel activity.
The bullet rounds struck the wing root, Fuss says, which then caused the wing to fold up.
A Belgium Ministry of Defence spokesman has told Flight Unmanned that a Belgium military investigation board team sent to Kinshasa found that the bullet hit the UAV on its left hand side, entered into the fuselage and impacted the wing spar. “The pre-strengthened carbon fibre beam that supports both wings was destroyed”.
The crash caused injuries to six people on the ground and set fire to a house.
The incident has been initially investigated by police in Kinshasa, says Fuss. A Belgian federal prosecution office team is currently carrying out further investigations in the Kinshasa area
The Belgium MoD announced 8 August that a six hour mission had been successfully completed by the detachment that same day. A replacement aircraft is to be deployed to the Congo between 14-19 August to restore the detachment to full strength.
The UAVs are primarily being used as “one of our reconnaissance tools to collect information on road traffic and crowd activities” in the Kinshasa area, Fuss says. Germany heads the peacekeeping operation.
The 49-member B-Hunter UAV detachment – taken from the Belgian defence force’s Air Component 80th UAV Squadron - arrived in the Congo on 12 July.
The loss reduces Belgium’s B-Hunter fleet to a total of 16 aircraft out of an original order of 18. One aircraft was lost in an accident in Belgium earlier this year.