Belgian B-Hunters damaged, but no link with fatal crash

Belgian army-operated Israel Aerospace Industries B-Hunter unmanned air vehicles were targeted by saboteurs during their deployment to Democratic Republic of Congo capital Kinshasa with European Union peacekeeping forces (EUFOR).

Data cables linking ground segments of the UAV system were interfered with during operations, according to the European Union Operations in the Democratic Republic of Congo report.

Belgian army officials told Western EU defence committee members visiting Kinshasa that they had encountered "local acts of sabotage of the optical cables needed for the launch and recovery operations", the report says.

It also reveals that the B-Hunter involved in a fatal accident on 5 October shortly after take-off suffered a "technical failure".

The accident killed one person on the ground and remains the subject of investigations by the Belgian authorities, which are examining how the aircraft lost power in both its engines simultaneously (Flight International, 10-16 October 2006).

B-Hunter flight operations were suspended after the accident but resumed after an initial review by the Belgian air force and EUFOR officials.

The Belgian army had already lost a UAV to small arms fire from a lone gunman during final approach to Kinshasa's N'Dolo airport on 28 July.

The WEU report says the UAVs played an important role in providing intelligence to the EUFOR operation overseeing national elections, but the gunfire incident compromised the broader performance of the B-Hunter during the deployment.

"They were vulnerable, as demonstrated by the fact that one of them was shot down by light weapons during their first flights," says the report. "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, and the EUFOR mandate ended on 30 November.

Source: Flight International