Unfit For Service: Ethiopia’s Troublesome Iranian Mohajer-6 UCAVs

Iranian drones


Oryx  Thursday, November 18, 2021  Addis Ababa ,

By Stijn Mitzer and Joost Oliemans

The Tigray Defence Forces’ ambitious counter-offensive on Ethiopia’s capital Addis Ababa finally appears to have come to a halt. This was not in the least achieved through the extensive deployment of Chinese-made unmanned combat aerial vehicles (UCAVs) on the side of the Ethiopian government. Types so far confirmed to have been acquired by Ethiopia include Chinese Wing Loong Is, a VTOL type of UCAV supplied by the UAE and Iranian Mohajer-6s. [1] [2] [3] Ethiopia has relied heavily on its newly-acquired UCAVs to make up for years of neglect of its air-to-ground capabilities, forcing its air force to launch a hasty procurement drive for UCAVs in the summer of 2021.

This website first reported on the acquisition of Iranian Mohajer-6 UCAVs by Ethiopia in early August 2021. [3] Although acquired with much anticipation on the side of Ethiopia, the operational career of the Mohajer-6s in the country ended almost as soon as the drones had been delivered, with both drones acquired almost immediately grounded as problems in their control systems prevented their actual use over Ethiopia. This was undoubtedly much to the dismay of the Ethiopian Air Force, whose next confirmed acquisition of UCAVs only occurred in mid-September 2021. [1] [4] It would take another one and a half months until Ethiopia managed to obtain any armament for its newly-acquired Chinese UCAVs, some three months after it first attempted to deploy true armed drones. [5]

The lack of any armament for its (operational) UCAVs led the Ethiopian Air Force to use its Wing Loong Is to designate targets for Su-27 fighter aircraft instead. [6] As the Su-27s can only deploy a variety of dumb bombs, these highly inaccurate strikes resulted in high numbers of civilian casualties. [6] In one notable instance, the bombs dropped by a Su-27 over the capital of the Tigray Region Mekelle missed their intended target by a kilometre, ultimately landing in an empty field. [6] Tragically, bombs released during other sorties missed their original target to hit civilian areas instead. [6]

It would take until late October 2021 when the problems with the Mohajer-6s finally appeared resolved, some two and a half months after their arrival to Ethiopia! Throughout early November 2021, both Mohajer-6s were regularly sighted on the runway and tarmac of Semera airport. [7] The frequent repositioning of the drones on the tarmac also indicates that the drones are now conducting regular flights. Around the same time, Tigray forces threatened to hunt down foreigners it claims are supporting the Ethiopian government as mercenaries and technical experts, undoubtedly referring to the Iranian operators that operate the Mohajer-6 in Ethiopia. [8]

Ethiopian President Abiy Ahmed (right) inspects the newly-arrived Mohajer-6s and associated ground control station (GCS) at Semera airport, early August 2021.

The Mohajer-6 can carry an effective payload of up to 40kg of ordnance, which would consist of two to four Ghaem-15 or 9 precision-guided munitions (PGMs) respectively. It couples these lightweight capabilities with an endurance of 12 hours and a maximum flight altitude of around 5.500 metres. [9] The manufacturer of the system claims an operating range of 200km. [9] For its target acquisition and reconnaissance capabilities, the Mohajer-6 uses an EOAS-I-18A FLIR turret. [10]


A Ghaem-5 munition. Up to four of these can be carried by the Mohajer-6.

However, with the Mohajer-6’s low flight ceiling the type is vulnerable to ground fire, whereas the low quality of its FLIR turret and the fact that the drone itself is largely unproven in combat could result in poor efficacy. What is more, with the low numbers known to have been produced so far it remains to be seen if the Mohajer-6s can actually make a difference in a war that has meanwhile entered its second year.

Special thanks to Wim Zwijnenburg.


[1] Wing Loong Is Over Ethiopia: Chinese UCAVs Join The Battle For Tigray https://www.oryxspioenkop.com/2021/10/wing-loong-is-over-ethiopia-chinese.html

[2] UAE Combat Drones Break Cover In Ethiopia https://www.oryxspioenkop.com/2021/10/uae-combat-drones-break-cover-in.html

[3] Iranian Mohajer-6 Drones Spotted In Ethiopia https://www.oryxspioenkop.com/2021/08/iranian-mohajer-6-drones-spotted-in.html

[4] Tigray War: Chinese-Made Armed Drones Spotted Over Mekelle https://www.oryxspioenkop.com/2021/10/tigray-war-chinese-made-armed-drones.html

[5] Ethiopia Acquires Chinese TL-2 Missiles For Its Wing Loong I UCAVs https://www.oryxspioenkop.com/2021/11/ethiopia-acquires-chinese-tl-2-missiles.html

[6] Deadly Ineffective: Chinese-Made Wing Loong UAVs Designate Targets For Ethiopian Su-27 Bombers https://www.oryxspioenkop.com/2021/11/deadly-ineffective-chinese-made-wing.html

[7] Ethiopia now confirmed to fly Chinese armed drones https://paxforpeace.nl/news/blogs/ethiopia-now-confirmed-to-fly-chinese-armed-drones

[8] Tigrayan forces say they will ‘hunt down’ foreign mercenaries https://www.reuters.com/world/africa/tigrayan-forces-say-will-hunt-down-foreign-nationals-aiding-ethiopia-war-2021-11-12/

[9] https://twitter.com/brokly990/status/1256994704568258562

[10] https://twitter.com/L4RB1/status/1192650551814742016

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