Even as Emirati cargo flights carrying arms and equipment to Ethiopia appear to have come to a halt (but not before delivering six Wing Loong I armed drones), Iranian flights believed to be carrying the same type of cargo continue to reach Ethiopia.
In the past month, five Boeing 747-200FSCD cargo aircraft belonging to the Fars Air Qeshm have landed at Addis Ababa Bole Airport.
The exact contents of the Boeing 747s can currently only be guessed at, yet it doesn’t seem implausible that their flights are related to the deployment of two Iranian Mohajer-6 unmanned combat aerial vehicles (UCAVs) to Semera airport since August 2021.
Desperate for an armed drone capability to help it turn the tide in the Tigray War, two Mohajer-6s were acquired with much anticipation by Ethiopia.
Nonetheless, operations of the type proved highly problematic in Ethiopia, with both drones almost immediately grounded as problems in their control systems prevented their actual use.
It would take until late October 2021 when the problems with the Mohajer-6s finally appeared resolved. Throughout November 2021, both Mohajer-6s were regularly sighted on the runway of Semera airport confirming their regular use.
Fars Air Qeshm flies a fleet of two Boeing 747-200 cargo aircraft to a number of destinations worldwide. The airline is affiliated with Iran’s Revolutionary Guards and was sanctioned by the United States in 2019 for the transport of weaponry to Iranian militias deployed to Syria, and is also implicated in the transport of armament to Hizbullah forces in Lebanon.
The Boeing 747s are not the only Iranian aircraft that have frequented Ethiopia, with Pouya Air deploying its Ilyushin Il-76TD on this route as well. Pouya Air is owned by the Revolutionary Guards and is similarly believed to have been used to ferry weaponry to Ethiopia.
Despite extensive searches for any traces of Iranian armament in service with the Ethiopian National Defence Force (ENDF) by the author, the two Mohajer-6 UCAVs along with their support equipment and munitions currently are the only Iranian weapon systems confirmed to be present in Ethiopia.
The operation of other Iranian armament such as rocket artillery also seems plausible however, as is the regular delivery of additional Ghaem guided munitions for use by the Mohajer-6s, possibly onboard these very Boeing 747s.
The number of Iranian cargo flights to Ethiopia since August 2021 currently stands at 15. While an increase of 100% compared to the number of flights from Iran to Ethiopia prior to the outbreak of the Tigray War, this number pales in comparison to the 119 cargo flights from the United Arab Emirates.
The UAE has delivered at least six Wing Loong I armed drones and a large VTOL type of UCAV armed with two heavy mortars to Ethiopia. In October 2021 Ethiopia also received 50 Toyota Land Cruisers equipped for basic emergency services from the UAE.
The past month has seen a spectacular turnaround in the situation on the ground as the pressure of unabated drone warfare has forced Tigray forces to abandon their push on the capital Addis Ababa and retreat to the borders of the Tigray Region.
While much is still unknown about the deployment and use of UCAVs on the side of Ethiopia, there is plenty of reason to suggest that the Tigray War can be added to the lists of conflicts were armed drones achieved a breakthrough role.
This was not the least achieved through an extensive air bridge by the UAE and Iran that sought to keep the Ethiopian military supplied with any arms and equipment it needed, including said UCAVs.
The profileration of Iranian arms and support in this part of Africa is likely much to the US’ dismay. Whether Ethiopia is to pay the price for its arms acquistions from Iran, possibly through US sanctions later on, remains to be seen.