Colombia announced that it has begun building its own drones for military use, a sign of the changing dynamics of the country's conflict and the increasing use of this technology to counter organized crime throughout the region.
On October 24, Janeth Giha, Colombia’s vice minister of defence, told press that the government is in the process of building its own unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) or "drone," reported El Tiempo. The project has been in the works for the past year and a half.
The UAV will be used for military operations as well as having civilian functions such as the monitoring of oil pipelines, according to El Pais. It is unclear whether it would also engage in combat operations.
“Several of our engineers have gone to countries such as Spain to train and are working on this project. The most important thing is creating a prototype that will serve our needs, not only militarily, but also for monitoring our energy infrastructure,” Giha declared.
Colombia is also planning to install a military radar in the central province of Meta by 2015. If approval is given for the project the radar will be developed with the help of South Korea.
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According to a US State Department cable released last year by WikiLeaks, Colombia began using US-supplied drones in 2006 to conduct counter-insurgency and anti-narcotics operations. Earlier this year, a Colombian Defense Ministry official told Israel and the US that the country urgently needed to acquire more drones thanks to a change in the dynamics of the internal conflict.
Though the monitoring of energy infrastructure has been classed as a "civilian" purpose, it also involves elements of the conflict since the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) often carry out attacks on oil pipelines and energy stations throughout the country.
The announcement that Colombia is already building its own UAV is representative of the country’s ambition in becoming a key player in regional security. Colombia has helped train security forces in Guatemala, Mexico and Haiti, along with providing assistance in Honduras’ efforts to clean up its police. In addition, the government run weapons manufacturer Indumil announced a 130 percent increase in arms exports for 2011. If Colombia is able to effectively develop its drone building capacity, it could potentially also rise to become an exporter of this increasingly utilized technology in the fight against organized crime.
The US deployed drones in the Caribbean this year to monitor drug traffickers and has also sent them to Mexico to help in the fight against drug cartels. UAVs are also being distributed by Brazil, with the South American country having provided drones to neighboring Bolivia to gather information on coca plantations and drug trafficking routes.