Citing images shared on the internet, several media outlets have reported that the Ethiopian National Defence Force is using Iranian-made Mohajer-6 combat unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) as it fights a civil war.
Who took the photos remains unknown. However, they show the Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed visiting an airport with what appears to be the drone in the background. The fact-checking website Bellingcat and some open-source researchers independently geo-located the images, indicating that they were taken at the government-controlled Semara Airport.
Semara is the capital city of the country’s Afar province, which abuts the Tigray region where government forces are battling the anti-government Tigray Defense Forces (TDF).
طائرات من دون طيار إيرانية لدى الجيش الإثيوبي!!! https://t.co/E7GSX9rNAC
— Iranian military arabic (@iranianmil_ar) August 3, 2021
Analyzing the set of photos, which reportedly first appeared on April 3, Bellingcat spotted a blurred image of an aircraft and a Ground Control Station (GCS) used for controlling a UAV.
In pictures showing the inside of the GCS, the website cited Twitter users noticing software similar to that used by the Iranian military. Bellingcat cited “drone feed footage broadcast in 2019 on an Iranian news channel” to point out the similarities between the two software programs.
“Various measurements, such as the latitude-longitude meter, are arranged in exactly the same way on the screen. The same distinct crosshairs can also be seen in both images,” the outlet claimed.
“These commonalities suggest that both drones use a similar Intelligence, Surveillance, Target Acquisition, and Reconnaissance (ISTAR) software.”
Belingcat further stated that the drone feed seen at the Semara Airport is quite different from the “publicly available drone feed footage for Chinese, Turkish, Iranian, and US drones.”
The website then physically measured the satellite imagery obtained on August 2 of two aircraft on the tarmac and ruled out the “Chinese Wing Loong II and the CH-4 and CH-5, or the Turkish Bayraktar TB-2.”
The website then analyzed the image of the aircraft and found the shape and landing gear similar to the Mohajer-6 drone.
“…the curved flare nose, landing gear, the measurements and the wingspan are unique features for a Mohajer-6, providing more indications that this could indeed be a drone of Iranian origin,” Bellingcat wrote.
Tehran has reportedly been exporting its combat and surveillance drones to proxies in at least four locations: Lebanon, Iraq, Yemen, and Gaza. If the claims prove true, Ethiopia will be the first sovereign nation to have received Iran-made drones.
Ethiopia’s Tigray Conflict
The Arab Weekly, citing opposition sources, claimed that the Ethiopian National Defence Force has been using drones against rebels since fighting broke out in the Tigray region last year. The outlet also claimed that the UAVs caused civilian deaths.
The conflict in the northeast African nation started in November when the country’s central government accused Tigray local authorities of holding “illegal” elections and seizing a military base.
The conflict has killed thousands and displaced an estimated 1.7 million people, while a further 5.5 million face imminent food insecurity.