I read a report that the military have announced new measures on combating kidnapping in Ondo and Ekiti states based on new technologies anchored on drones.

I have not seen the drones but we can assume they are military grade and essentially, they will have night vision capabilities and infrared sensors. I wish to say a word or two on this issue, not from an expert’s point of view but just because all of the technologies used by the military originated from civilians and the basic knowledge of how those things work are in public domain. You can read about them during your idle hours and if you have nursed that habit for a few decades, you find a few yourself responding to defence issues with some naturalness.

With a little commons sense, anybody can say a few crude and commonplace things about them. So I can as well make an attempt.

Kidnapping is a testy security situation especially in a forested environment. In fact, Jungle Warfare is a specialty in the military because it has its peculiar challenges. In the jungle, concealment is too easy and sneak attacks could be common. Rescuing a kidnapped person in such an environment calls for a different approach from usual aerial surveillance primarily because of the forest canopy. Now how do drones work? Drones don’t perform magic. They bear three main sets equipment with different levels of sophistication: Cameras, radars, radio signal interceptors and transmitters.

Lets see how they work and what they do:
Cameras: They come with various capabilities and essentially, as you can guess, what they do is see and record or transmit what they see. But they do a little more.

Most of the cameras you have ever seen see just like you and I do or maybe with some ability to pull the picture a little closer or cover a wider field. Specialized cameras aboard surveillance carry cameras that can see very distant things far better than human eyes. They can also resolve those images better – which means when you enlarge the images, they will not become blurred. There are also cameras that see outside of visible light, unlike human eyes. For example, all large animals and humans are a normally warmer than their environment. That warmth is a type of light called infra-red light and it is given off by all warm objects and bodies.

A drone carrying an infra-red sensitive camera will thus see warm things rather clearly in pitch darkness, although it will only see in black and white and this is the basis for most night vision abilities. Other types of specialized views will scan the area for specific wavelengths of light that is reflected by the particular object being sought.

For example, the NDLEA can locate any illegal opium farm by flying a drone over the forest once the drone has been equipped to pick wavelengths of light peculiarly reflected by the opiate plant. In some instances, the drone will carry equipment that can beam signals in specific range of the electromagnetic spectrum and analyse the reflected waves. This reflected wave pattern have been known to be specific to certain plants or minerals, and so forth and can be positively identified. That is the reason those American spy drones are so big – they carry radars and instruments that can send an array of signals and analyse the reflected waves. They are also hardened against electronic jamming which could be used to mess up their navigation systems even as they transmit date in very complex ways to avoid interception by unauthorized persons.

And this is how drones come in in anti-kidnapping operations but sadly, no more! There are certain limitations on the drone in these circumstances and I will not elaborate on them further for obvious reasons because some of the people reading this are not friends. Those in charge of these operations know those limitations and as such, they understand how ineffective they will be if this is their only forte.

I continuing this ridiculously uninformed ramble, I will humbly submit that drones won’t deliver results – not much results, not in a jungle environment, in my view.

Here is what I think will work a lot better:
1. Miniaturized listening devises planted in the forests in crime-prone environment will do a great job. They have been in use for a long time, according to military literature, in the jungle for eavesdropping on enemy conversations or even just for detecting troop movements. They are GPS aware and so can radio their location to an accuracy of 10 meters or even less. Some of them combine vibration sensitivity so the thump of footsteps can be picked up and analysed to know the enemy strength in that area since aerial survey is a lot harder to accomplish. Of course they can be left in a standby mode and activated remotely if there is an incident in the area. Alternatively – and imagine this scenario – if there is an incident, a drone can overfly the general area dropping the devices by the dozens. They become active immediately and they report their positions to a central command within a six kilometres radius They immediately begin to transmit the sounds of footsteps and voices and handlers sort out useful sounds from the typical and home in on the area of higher probability

2. Sniffer Dog teams. Once the area has been identified to just about 20,000 square meters with the means defined above, a team of special forces assisted by trained sniffer dogs move in. Sniffer dogs don’t have time to waste and once they have been printed with the victim’s scent, they will begin to earnestly follow the trail and search out the terrain.

3. Rapidly deploying airborne strike group. I had earlier rambled here about this as a means of curbing the menace of bandits launching surprise attacks on villages. Imagine a group of special forces with up to 2000 stationed in each of the six zones of the country and each having three helicopters each. They could also be supported yet with one Chinook for each zone for deploying a lot more men. These forces will be able to respond and deploy rapidly to areas where there are incidents. Choppers on this type of duties do about 400 kilometers per hour, which means if you have them two in each of our six zones, a team will be able to deploy anywhere in the country within 5 to 15 minutes.

Looking at how kidnappers work in a jungle environment, the means above should be able to serve well. Let’s reconstruct a kidnapping scenario using the report of freed victims. As soon as the victim is picked up, usually from the road, the criminals immediately begin marching them deep into the forest. The trek takes many hours, anywhere from 10 to 12. Now let’s say the airborne troops come in 20 minutes, which is the upper limit of their deployment to the zone of attack, they are still well in business. In the next five minutes they deploy a drone and it broadcasts listening devices. Data is returned in real time and analysed. In 30 minutes to an hour – even if it is two hours – the most probable area is identified. The coordinates are uploaded to the drone and it zooms in and directs its cameras at the area. Ground teams advance with sniffer dogs combing the environment. The kidnappers and their victim have been trekking for just two hours which places them well within 6-10 kilometers since human beings trek about 4-5km per hour on paved roads. Dog teams can comb that portion of the forest in less than an hour.

It is reasonable to think that if one or two kidnap cases are busted this way, the seesaw of fear will shift to the side of the kidnappers and they will begin to find the trade too perilous since fire will always ring out within two hours of their abducting anybody. I believe this is an idea real security experts in our armed forces can flesh out and breathe life into. Of course intelligence from agents and everyday people on ground is invaluable and it remains the duty of all of us to join hands in reporting strange movements and joining in not tolerating this crime in our environment.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here