QUITO — The Ecuadorian Air Force (FAE in Spanish) said it’s in the final stages of a $6 million project to develop unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) for surveillance and training.
The new, locally manufactured drones will complement six foreign-built UAVs already owned by Ecuador’s Navy.
Phase I of the project, costing $3 million, consists of building drones for surveillance purposes, while Phase II will develop UAVs for training. The Quito newspaper Diario Hoy reported that the drones will be able to fly at altitudes of 11,400 feet, while reaching speeds of 25 miles per hour and remaining aloft for an average of seven hours.
“For the first time in history, the software and hardware in use is 100 percent manufactured in Ecuador,” said Col. Edgar Jaramillo, head of the Air Force Center for Research and Development [Centro de Investigación y Desarrollo FAE, or CIDFAE].
CIDFAE, founded in 1998 to provide technical assistance to the Air Force, is working with Ecuador’s National Polytechnic School [Escuela Politecnica Nacional] on UAV technology.
“Various schools are contributing to different parts of the UAV,” said Eduardo Avalos, the school’s dean of sciences, speaking on the sidelines of a recent Quito conference on drone technology. Avalos explained that while his group is focused on visual systems, avionics, communications and all other electronic inputs to the UAV, a separate group of engineering students and professors are working to develop autopilot instrumentation.
“It is important for the military to work in cooperation with universities to develop new technologies,” he said, “for it is the universities that have the necessary intellectual manpower to develop these initiatives.”
But Ecuador’s new drone initiative won’t be used only for defense purposes. “We can configure some of these UAVs to monitor for volcanic activity, watch over Ecuador’s vast national parks and perform other civilian functions,” Jaramillo said.
The UAV initiative comes as Ecuador boosts defense spending in general, said Jaime Carrera, an analyst at the Quito-based Observatorio de la Política Fiscal [Fiscal Policy Research Institute]. Carrera said Ecuador’s annual defense expenditures now exceed 2 percent of the country’s total GDP.
Jaramillo calls the first prototypes of Ecuador’s UAV-1 Phoenix and UAV-2 Hawk “a proud result of Ecuadorian technological developments.” Both prototypes are expected to take to the skies as early May, and be fully operational in 2014.