QUITO, Ecuador – Ecuador in January unveiled its first unmanned aircraft, or drone, completely manufactured within the country, culminating five years of work.
UAV-2 Gavilán, the first prototype of the nation’s unmanned aircraft system, will be used to keep an eye on border crossings, areas prone to natural disasters and territorial waters used for drug and human trafficking.
Gavilán also will be used to monitor the border with Colombia to halt the traffic of illegal fuel and weapons.
“Ecuador is located in a region plagued by drug trafficking, smuggling, illegal migration and the illegal exploitation of minerals,” Director of the Research and Development Center of the Ecuadoran Air Force (FAE) Édgar Jaramillo said. “These circumstances have led us to think of new tools for obtaining information, which will facilitate the decision-making process in a timely and efficient manner.”
Drones will save the country an average of US$500 million annually in military spending, according to the Ecuadoran Ministry of Defense. The government has invested US$3 million in the system since 2008, according to Jaramillo.
During testing, Gavilán assisted in the seizure of a boat, possibly of Panamanian origin, carrying 799 kilograms of cocaine in the coastal province of Manabí on Oct. 13, according to Jaramillo.
The video recorded by one of the drones showed how, moments before capture, one of the crew members hoisted the Panamanian flag on the ship’s mast. Later, the flags of four other countries were found inside the vessel.
A Panamanian, a U.S. citizen, a Nicaraguan, and two Colombians were arrested and have been detained for allegedly transporting illegal substances.
The drones, which cost US$500,000 apiece, provide precise longitude and latitude data. They also can identify cargo and crew hidden inside vessels thanks to infra-red sensors, as well as take video and photographs in real time.
Gavilán has a flight endurance of seven hours and is made of carbon fiber and wood.
Paúl Armas, the head of production for the FAE’s Research Center, said this is a technological leap, as it’s the first time a project of this kind has been carried out in Ecuador.
“More than 100 people have worked on it, including students from the country’s main polytechnic universities,” he said.
Luis Moncayo, an independent analyst specializing in military affairs, said the system is a great step in the development of Ecuadoran aeronautics.
“Manufacturing our own technology gives us important independence,” he said. “Monitoring our high-risk areas with aircraft manufactured here creates a new image domestically and abroad. We are saying to the world that we are able to look after our own territory and to produce our own technology.
“The drones already have been proven to do a good job detecting illegal traffic in persons or drugs. They are beneficial also because they don’t place a human crew at risk,” he added.
Defense Minister María Fernanda Espinosa said the unmanned aircraft system is a military advancement.
“This makes it clear that we are working toward modernizing our Armed Forces to adapt to current needs,” she said.