Ecuador Launches Locally Made Drone

President Rafael Correa recently unveiled Ecuador’s first locally manufactured unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) which will be used by authorities to fight drug trafficking by monitoring borders and inaccessible areas, of which there are many in the Ecuadorian jungles. In addition to producing drones for use in Ecuador, the intention is to manufacture and export to other South American countries. Named the UAV-2 Gavilán (meaning ‘hawk’), the prototype drone was designed and tested by the Ecuadorian Air Force (FAE) over a period of five years. President Correa noted in his presentation that the cost of the new Gavilán is around $500,000, compared with the price of $20 million paid in 2007 for six Israeli UAVs.

Consisting of carbon fiber and wood components, the Gavilán operates on a gasoline engine with the capacity to keep running for seven hours before refueling. It is able to transmit photos and video footage in real time and has already been extensively tested in the field, detecting and following a ship in the Pacific Ocean which turned out to be carrying drugs. Four more of the drones will be manufactured for domestic use this year before manufacturing any for export.

Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV), better known as ‘drones’ have made international news lately for their use in military operations by the United States. The announcement by mail-order giant Amazon that they are investigating the possibility of use drones for deliveries also made headlines last year, with many citizens voicing concerns about privacy and safety issues. At a hearing facilitated by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), of which Ecuador is a member, a senior analyst for the American Civil Liberties Union raised the concern that drones will become “a tool for routine mass surveillance”. While this may be a legitimate concern, drones have a multitude of useful applications, such as search and rescue operations, crop spraying, emergency medical response, border control, monitoring of wildlife in reserves and a variety of industrial functions.

An example of the usefulness of drones is the archeological research being carried out in a remote and almost inaccessible area of Llanganates in Ecuador. With the use of drones, researchers hope to get film footage of this largely unexplored region of the Ecuadorian jungle which is historically associated with the Incan Empire. It is thought that the Inca general Ruminahui, who led the Inca resistance against Spanish invaders and was captured by the Spaniards, hid the mummified body of the emperor Atahualpa somewhere in this region. Archeologists and treasure hunters have been searching for the Emperor’s tomb ever since. Maybe with the help of modern technology they will have some success.