Satellite imagery shows that the U.S. has expanded drone aprons at African airfields in Djibouti and Niger. New clamshell shelters and clearing activity suggest that the US is increasing its surveillance capability of nearby hotspots.
At Djibouti’s Chabelley airfield, space snapshots acquired in March 2015 shows the addition of four more clamshell shelters. Two were erected in December at the existing drone apron while two more were visible at the airfield’s older parking apron. Those on the older apron were erected between May and October. Historical imagery shows Predators parked in front of both new shelter sets.
It’s fortunate the US increased its drone combat air patrols in the region as things across the Bab-el-Mandeb in Yemen deteriorate. While it may be a coincidence, it also could suggest that US intelligence professionals had insight into things to come. Of course, we can never be sure.
Next door at Djibouti’s Ambouli international, two new aircraft hangars, an extended parallel taxi-way and a large parking ramp were still under construction in early 2015. The parking ramp measures approximately 130,000 sq meters. Imagery also shows that construction activity is ongoing at other parts of the airfield. In May, the US secured a 20-year lease with the East African country and has plans to spend USD 1 billion upgrading Camp Lemonnier into a major regional base.
With the 20-year lease, Djibouti was able to extract USD 63 million per year for base rents, up from USD 38 million previously. Djibouti’s GDP in 2013 was USD 1.46 billion.
Meanwhile in West Africa, recent imagery of Niger’s Diori Hamani from February shows clearing and paving activity next to a clamshell shelter housing US Reapers. Imagery from late December showed crews emptying the area of equipment and relocating the Ku-band array.
Space shots continue to show the expansion of the airport with new aircraft support shelters, additional leveling and the construction of aircraft hardstands. Ongoing construction activity emphasizes how important Niger is as a regional hub for French and US counter-terrorism operations — an importance that’s been growing since the 2011 US-led intervention in Libya.
In September, the Washington Post reported that the US was preparing to open a second drone base at the Mano Dayak International airport in Agadez, partly in response to the arms trafficking from Libya. A review of historical imagery has not shown any construction activity that would support a drone base at the airport at this time. The absence of additional infrastructure may suggest the clearing activity at Diori Hamani could be related to basing additional drones in Niamey, not Agadez. With the next imagery update, we wouldn’t be surprised if another clamshell shelter was erected next to the existing shelter.
Beyond West Africa, imagery has not shown a return of drones to the Seychelles, though visits from P-3s and other surveillance aircraft were observed at Victoria airport throughout 2014. The US continues to maintain its drone site focused on the horn at Ethiopia’s Arba Minch.
 As an example, see the shift in section 1206 funding of the US National Defense Authorization Act for Niger between 2011 (nil) and 2012 (USD 11.7 million) For more information see also here: Joseph Trevithick, “Niger is the New Hub for American Ops in North, West Africa“, offiziere.ch, 20.05.2014.
 However, ongoing activity noted in the last half of 2014 included the touchdown of surveillance and cargo aircraft at the airport. This helps explains why the US Department of Defense ordered more than 7 million gallons (about 26.5 million litre) of jet and diesel fuel for the airport last year.