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LONDON — United Nations peacekeepers are set to get their own unmanned air vehicle capability as the organization closes on a deal to have a contractor provide an intelligence-gathering service in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).
A spokeswoman for the UN said the procurement process is in its final stages. “We are planning to deploy the UAVs this summer,” she said.
The UN has been trying to deploy UAVs in the region for several years but has been thwarted by opposition from DRC’s neighbor, Rwanda, and others. Rwanda has been accused of supporting rebel forces in the region.
The contractor would provide up to three UAVs and ground stations, part of efforts to strengthen UN peacekeeping forces in the mineral-rich eastern part of the DRC where clashes between rebel groups and the national Army continue to destabilize the region.
The UN wants a UAV service provider in place for an initial three-year period with options for a further two years.
Industry sources said one of the main roles for the UAVs is to track in real time rebel movements during the night.
The UN is following the example of others, such as the British and Dutch militaries, who have bolstered their intelligence-gathering capabilities in Afghanistan through contractor-supplied surveillance by the hour.
Thales UK assisted by Hermes 450 UAV supplier Elbit Systems and QinetiQ provided the service for the British and Dutch forces, respectively.
Both companies said they were interested in the UN requirement. Finmeccanica has also registered an interest with its Falco tactical UAV, along with Denel of South Africa and others. South Africa is a significant provider of troops to the 19,000-strong UN force in the DRC.
The UN spokeswoman said “25 companies from 11 countries [including South Africa and Indonesia] initially expressed interest. In late February, their representatives visited the DRC to familiarize themselves with the area and our operations.”
Last month, the UN approved the creation of what it calls an “Intervention Brigade” in the conflict-torn eastern part of the DRC to strengthen the stabilization effort.
The spokeswoman said the UAVs and the Intervention Brigade are new tools being provided by the UN Security Council to support a renewed political effort in the DRC.