Washington is quietly setting up at least two new East African drone bases, plus one on the Arabian Peninsula, to support the expanding U.S. shadow war against Islamic militants in Somalia and Yemen. An apparently new facility has been built in Ethiopia. In the island nation of Seychelles, a defunct airfield is being reactivated. A third base is being set up in or near Yemen.
The news, first reported by The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal, should come as no surprise to close observers of America’s shadow war on the borders of the Indian Ocean. But the base expansion could be met with outrage by the people most directly affected, especially Africans themselves. For years, Washington has insisted that it wouldn’t build new bases in Africa.
And that's why they are setting up in the Seychelles, in case mainland operations prove difficult. That's the "A" on the map below. The Reaper, shown above, can cover a circle roughly 2,000 km in diameter, and other RPV's have longer range. It's a major merchant marine area with local, coastal traffic and international carriers, with increasing interest and presence of players like India and China which is a major reason the US wants to keep an eye on things with more than satellites.
It is curious to see how history repeats: a hundred years ago, the Royal Navy kept a world-wide network of coaling stations for the replenishment of the fleet; today, the Americans are building a world-wide network of surveillance stations. Adm. Alfred Thayer Mahan would be so pleased. As I have mentioned before, this is technology that we need for the Arctic, for patrol and surveillance: you lose an RPV up over the Arctic ocean, it's only money, no pilot and crew members to worry about. Beats toasted subs.