Warplanes: American Wings Over Africa


November 20, 2015:   Another American military documents leak confirmed what had long been known about U.S. aerial reconnaissance missions flown out of bases in Africa. All this basically began in 2002 when the United States began sharing an old French base in Djibouti, which is the northwestern neighbor of Somalia. In effect Djibouti contains the one official U.S. military base (Camp Lemonnier) in Africa. France and the United States SOCOM (Special Operations Command) have had special operations forces (commandos and special aircraft) outside the Djibouti capital since 2002. In 2014 the U.S. signed another ten year lease for that base. U.S. forces in Djibouti were increased after resistance collapsed in Iraq in 2008 and the base is now the command post for a network of American operations through the region. Most of the effort is directed at monitoring what is going on in the region (mainly Somalia and Yemen but also Eritrea, Nigeria, Mali, Libya, Kenya, and Ethiopia) not at interfering with the local terrorists. Not much, anyway. The Djibouti base also supports operations throughout the Sahel (the semi-desert strip between the North African desert and the Central African jungles, which stretches from the Atlantic to Somalia).

The recent leaks put precise numbers to the previous estimates (which varied widely) of how many aircraft operated out of Camp Lemonnier and associated airfields. As of 2013 (the date of the leaked documents) Task Force 48-4 (the U.S. Air Force unit in charge of the air operations) had fourteen large UAVs (ten MQ-9 Reapers and four MQ-1 Predators), six manned U-28 aircraft and eight F-15E fighter bombers. The two seat F-15Es carried surveillance gear and could fly long distances, find a target and destroy it with a GPS or laser guided weapon. In addition U.S. Navy ships off the African coast sometimes had MQ-8 and ScanEagle UAVs operated from ships to search inland. The U.S. Navy also had two P-3C maritime patrol aircraft stationed near Camp Lemonnier.

In 2013 most of the air reconnaissance flown out of Camp Lemonnier was for Yemen, where al Qaeda was trying to take control of south Yemen. Most of the remaining air operations were over Somalia, where the local Islamic terrorists (al Shabaab) were taking a beating, partly because the peacekeepers and government forces had American air surveillance working for them. Most of the sorties were for surveillance but there were one or two air strikes a month, usually using UAVs (Reapers and Predators were armed, as were the F-15Es). Eighty percent of these attacks were in Yemen.

One American aircraft that became very popular for intel operations in Africa is a military version (the U-28) of the Pilatus PC-12 single engine transport. This aircraft has a max weight of 4.7 tons and a payload of 1.5 tons. The U-28 can carry nine passengers (plus one pilot) or over half a ton of cargo. Cruising speed is 500 kilometers an hour and average endurance is five hours per sortie. The U.S. Air Force operates twenty U-28s for SOCOM and has three on order. U-28s have been reported operating over, and landing in, Somalia. The small, but usually very reliable, U-28 goes largely unnoticed over Somalia. That's because most of the aircraft seen there are one or two engine propeller driven planes smuggling something. The PC-12 entered service in 1994 and over a thousand have been built (in Switzerland) so far. The PC-12 is mainly used by civilian operators. It's popular as a corporate passenger aircraft, as an air ambulance, and an airliner in remote areas. The PC-12 is known for being easy to fly, reliable, and rugged.






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