Kenya Aviation Technology Project Could Inform Law Enforcement Aviation Programs in the U.S.

December 15, 2016

PhotoA research project to support and enhance the Kenya Wildlife Service Air Wing’s anti-poaching, conservation, law enforcement and counterterrorism missions could benefit rural and tribal law enforcement agencies in the United States.

The National Institute of Justice partnered with the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Counterterrorism and enlisted the KWS Air Wing to trial cost-effective, piloted aviation technology in an operational evaluation. The evaluation and lessons learned from the project could not only aid KWS, but also help state and local law enforcement agencies in the U.S. that want to establish or enhance aviation capabilities on a tight budget.

The KWS Air Wing uses aerial patrols for counter-poaching and conservation efforts to protect and manage wildlife. The Air Wing is also asked to support other Kenya law enforcement agencies requiring aerial support, particularly in issues of counterterrorism and national security.

Aviation experts and researchers from Elizabeth City State University will identify and assess cost-effective aviation technology to support the project. NIJ staff and the team have conducted site visits to the KWS Air Wing in Nairobi and field visits to several Kenya national parks receiving aerial support to gather information for a KWS Air Wing needs assessment. We interviewed wardens, rangers, pilots and command staff. Results of the assessment, along with input from the KWS Air Wing, will inform the technology acquisition. The technology will be evaluated in the field and results translated for applicability to local law enforcement agencies here.

Although the Air Wing has done an extraordinary job conducting aerial patrols with limited resources, additional aircraft and upgraded technology should significantly advance the Air Wing’s ability to achieve its wildlife protection mission.

Actions we were able to take early in the project include providing the Air Wing with new state-of-the-art GPS navigation devices to replace their limited GPS capability. The new GPS devices have advanced features including mapping, terrain avoidance, synthetic vision and the ability to create and save waypoints and routes. Synthetic vision provides pilots with a 3D depiction of the terrain and surroundings. We also updated some simple items such as headsets and seat cushions, because the seats in the aging KWS aircraft are so thin that the pilots, who sometimes fly eight hours a day, were experiencing back trouble.

Some additional plans and goals as part of the overall program include:

  • Add lighting to runways and equip aircraft with forward looking infrared thermal imaging systems so pilots can support anti-poaching activities at night.
  • Equip aircraft with emergency position indicating radio beacons (EPIRBs) to allow pilots in trouble to alert search and rescue services with a touch of a button and indicate their location.
  • Equip aircraft with emergency medical trauma kits, which will enhance the safety of KWS pilots.  
  • Equip aircraft with cameras to take video and still photos, along with the capability to transmit images to park headquarters and KWS headquarters in real time to help with decisions about ranger deployment on the ground and overall better situational awareness.

NIJ staff and representatives from the KWS Air Wing held an informational session about the project at the October 2016 International Association of Chiefs of Police Conference. Watch for periodic updates on the project on the JTIC website at https://justnet.org/KWS/.

Maureen McGough
Senior Policy Advisor
National Institute of Justice
  Michael O’Shea
Senior Law Enforcement Program Manager
National Institute of Justice