Will drones and UAVs unriddle insecurity in Kenya?


As drones continue to permeate ever more sectors of the Kenyan society, the question about the potentiality of using them in security and defense develops.

Drones also unmanned aerial vehicles, simply UAVs are essentially flying robots that can be remotely controlled or flown autonomously through software-controlled flight plans in embedded systems working in conjunction with onboard sensors and GPS. They can fly, move on the ground (unmanned ground vehicles) or underwater (aquatic drones), or in any other format. They were incepted in the 1930s in the military applications and  have come a long way to millions of them being flown around by civilians today.

As the role of these UAVs continues to grow, new applications for drones in security and defense continue to emerge. While the possibilities presented by drones in the theater of war have already been explored, more research is now being undertaken into their potential for improving security.

While developed regions like the European Commission has already recognised the potential of drones in security and defense and is working together with the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) to help build more information and grow the understanding of how these powerful devices could prove useful for meeting security challenges in the future, it is still fairly early days for underdeveloped or developing countries.

Luckily, there is continued technological uptake in the developing world with continued with innovations that are geared towards the betterment of lives and alleviation of human suffering. Africa, while moving to catch up with the fast-moving world especially in the field of technology, present very many opportunities to harness these technologies to solve several challenges facing her especially security or the lack of it.

A case in point is the pertinent subject of terrorism with which brings loss of lives and perhaps, fear. Whereas fear is not the direct challenge, death is! J K Rowling the author of Harry Potter series once said that we are all human and every life is worth the same and worth saving. It is hurtful that sometimes at public celebrations, a head of state stands to cheer a driver maneuvering a 1st generation jetfighter as it passes a dais, and the public is present to cheer assuming safety?

In Kenya, a billion project to install cameras across the city have not yielded much yet, save for news bytes. Never mind the team working on surveillance cameras that is paid by taxes and the recurrent data charges for the same! Just how much the government can save by embracing the use of drone cameras that will ensure accuracy, real-time response and/or ready availability of data as and when need be?

The country should install special weaponized drones to face the terrorists willing to die, so a soldier doesn’t have to lose their life trying to save someone else’s. The drones should also be able to disarm or neutralize the attackers maybe tentatively sending alerts until a more prominent solution comes. This will help compress the terrorists for rehabilitation. The victims of such malicious attacks also get very minimal if no harm at all because the alert is sent on time and with suggestions on how to get rescue. Bottom line is no lives get lost in the event.

It also reduces the rescue worktime in case of any severe attack events as such cameras can clearly tell persons stuck under building debris and exactly tell what floors have signs of life so rescue team doesn’t have to go through 50 floors of a storey building for example, when such services are only needed in five floors of the building. The boarders can be manned by satellites that can utilize laser and other available technologies to scan every element entering the country, just like any other borders.

Kenya should set up a satellite launching pad in the vast lands; Mandera, its coastline etc, a beamed internet in every corner of the country. Let Kenya challenge herself to develop equipment like missile using GPS that can go past the 3000 kilometers if not reach Russia’s 16,000km Intercontinental missile. A cooperation between the government, corporate social responsibility branches of companies and universities to build custom robotic drones to carry out missions to help the country make milestones in safety, food disbursement in flooded areas besides agriculture and homemade satellites to serve the homemade needs.

Drones in security and defense will give more sophisticated, capable and intelligent results. They can withstand adverse weather conditions and will be able to carry more payload. Since the price of electronics has fallen and intelligence increased, drones can only get smarter.

The ultimate goal is to create drones that can better security, be used to perhaps fly soldiers the last mile into combat or take an injured soldier out of combat and back to base. Or it could be used to resupply troops or make the last mile delivery of goods. It could even be used to fly people out of potential danger zones meaning they wouldn’t have to experience any attacks in totality!

There are setbacks to his setup which include number one, permission to fly the drones. An operator needs Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) permission. Countries like the UK grants permission to fly commercial operations but don’t allow flights beyond 500m from the pilot in command of the UAV. This is a real handicap in terms of doing anything useful at range. Drones in security and defence might need to fly non-line-of-sight, or above and beyond visual line of sight.

The US of A follow a registration system and a drone pilot licence is required; however, permissions are governed by drone mass. Under the new rules, if a drone is below 250g then there are no required permissions for flying under the new European regulations structure. There is also a new 80 Joules of kinetic energy of impact with a person condition (<900g).

Another great impediment in using drones for security is its battery life which lasts around 25 minutes on average. Luckily, fuel engine/battery hybrid systems are steadily evolving. In terms of numbers, lithium polymer has about 200 Watt-hour per kilogram (Wh/kg) whereas Hydrogen fuel cells are about two or three times more than this. Fuel/battery hybrids are a little bit more than that (900 Wh/kg). There is not much difference between all of these solutions, however, each one has advantages and disadvantages.

Cases of drones and UAVs having been used in terror attacks have also been reported. Criminals are known to build their own drones and bad as it is, there is no way you can be stopped.  Banning the sale of drones in supermarkets and shops may not have an impact as a lot has been sold already. DJI that has about 70% of the market share, sold over one million drones in America alone in 2017.

Various suggestions have been put forwards in the field of drone detection and prevention. In Holland and France, there are eagles which can fly out and capture drones. Maybe Kenya should borrow a leaf from them when she gets to that bridge, but meanwhile, lets build drones for security.

Walter Ombiro is the Director ICT Department, Alliance High School, Kenya


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