In a dramatic illustration of the spread of drone technology, a Canadian company said this week that it sold a small military surveillance craft to Libyan rebels, who have been using it since July for the frontline monitoring of forces loyal to Libyan leader Moammar Gaddafi.
“It has been used in active war fighting, and they have had spectacular results,” said David Kroetsch, chief executive of Aeryon Labs Inc. in Waterloo, Canada, which manufactures the Aeryon Scout. The three-pound helicopter-like drone carries both day-time and night-time cameras and flies almost soundlessly at 500 feet.
“Even in the quiet of the desert, you could not hear it or see it. It’s a speck in the sky, especially at night,” said Kroetsch, noting that the drone is all-electric and has no engine noise.
The United States and its NATO allies have also been flying both weaponized and surveillance drones over Libya, but it was not known that the rebels had also acquired the technology. The New York Times first reported on the drone being used by Libya’s rebels on Wednesday.
The Canadian government, which has recognized Transitional National Council as the legitimate government of Libya, approved the sale. It is the first time that a Western government has allowed the transfer of drone technology to an insurgency.
Kroetsch said the rebels had experimented unsuccessfully with putting a camera on a remote-controlled helicopter before looking to purchase a proven drone. “They realized this was not time for a science experiment,” Kroetsch said.
He said the sale was brokered through the TNC’s representative in Canada. He declined to say how much the rebels paid, but the base price of the scout is $120,000.
The drone, which can be packed in a small suitcase, was delivered to the rebels by a Canadian security company, Zariba Security Corp. Charles Barlow, the president of Zariba, took the drone on a ferry from Malta to the besieged city of Misurata.
Barlow then instructed the rebels in the use of the micro-drone, and they began to use it themselves after only a day.