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Company says governments are deploying weaponized drones for crowd control

The Indian city of Lucknow made headlines last week by announcing its intention to weaponize drones for use against protesters. But a South African company called Desert Wolf says that it has already sold weaponized multi-rotor drones to governments around the world, as well as an international mining house, for crowd control purposes.

Called the Skunk Riot Control Copter, the device is equipped with four compressed air guns each capable of firing twenty rounds per second, giving the drone a maximum firing rate of eighty rounds per second. The guns can hold up to 4,000 rounds and can be armed with paintballs, pepper balls, and solid plastic bullets. In addition to these projectiles, the drones can also be equipped with a variety of surveillance equipment and tracking lasers that they claim are “eye safe.”

We spoke to Hennie Kieser, the director of Desert Wolf, at the Latin American and Aerospace Defense Expo in Rio De Janeiro. He told us that the company doesn’t sell these drones in small numbers or to small departments looking to experiment– these are substantial orders. He also said that five countries are currently using the Skunk Riot Control Copters. Previously, Kieser told the BBC that an international mining house had purchased twenty five drones. When asked which countries Desert Wolf has contracted with, Kieser said that he could not comment because of non disclosure agreements. However, Sputnik News, a media outlet operated by the Russian government, has reported that two of these countries may be South Africa and Turkey.

Weaponized drones have made news before. In 2012, a Texas sheriff’s department in Montgomery County purchased a $300,000 Shadowhawk drone. At the time the drone only operated with surveillance capabilities but Chief Deputy Randy McDaniel of Montgomery County expressed interest in arming the drone with rubber bullets and tear gas.

Kieser said that the Skunk is already in high demand and that he expects more countries to purchase them. When asked if he believed the U.S. would adopt this type of drone technology in the future he said believed it will be because he feels the Skunk drone technology has the potential to save the lives of not only the police, but of protesters and bystanders as well.

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