A South African company has been making headlines this week, after it unveiled a controversial drone armed with pepper spray designed for crowd control. According the BBC, the firm – Desert Wolf – is in negotiations with mining firms in South Africa around deploying the machine against protesters at the pit heads.
Developed by Desert Wolf, the octo-copter – dubbed “Skunk” – features “four high-capacity paint ball barrels firing at up to 20 bullets per second each, with 80 Pepper bullets per second,” the company explains on its website. The machine is powered by 16-inch props, and has a lifting capacity of 45kg.
Turning the drone into a real eye-in-the-sky, it also has the ability to record audio and video from a FLIR Thermal camera or full HD video colour camera, while the operators’ moves and decisions are also preserved.
If the paintballs weren’t enough, it can deploy bright strobe lights, blinding Lasers and an on-board speaker system relays communication and warnings to the crowd.
In an interview with the BBC, Desert Wolf’s CEO Hennie Kieser revealed that it has already received an order for a number of units.
“We received an order for 25 units just after [a security trade show]. We cannot disclose the customer, but I am allowed to say it will be used by an international mining house. We are also busy with a number of other customers who want to finalise their orders,” he said.
He confirmed that some SA mines have placed orders as a mean of crowd control. “Some [are] mines in South Africa, some security companies in South Africa and outside South Africa, some police units outside South Africa and a number of other industrial customers.”
The mining industry in South Africa is a sensitive matter, especially when it comes to crowd control. In 2012, 44 striking miners were killed by police at Lonmin’s Marikana mine, just outside Rustenburg.
Kieser stressed that is exactly the reason they developed the Skunk. “We designed and developed the Skunk because of a huge safety risk that had to be addressed. We cannot afford another Lonmin Marikana and by removing the police on foot, using non-lethal technology, I believe that everyone will be much safer.”
But according to the BBC, not everyone is thrilled with the prospect of an unmanned drone hovering overhead – just waiting for a disruption.
“This is a deeply disturbing and repugnant development and we are convinced that any reasonable government will move quickly to stop the deployment of advanced battlefield technology on workers or indeed the public involved in legitimate protests and demonstrations,” said International Trade Union Confederation spokesperson Tim Noonan.
We’re currently looking into the legality of operating a drone like this in South Africa, and will be following up shortly.
[Source – BBC, Defenceweb image – Desert Wolf]