London: The British police are planning to employ the controversial unmanned spy drones for the “routine” monitoring of antisocial motorists, protesters, agricultural thieves and fly-tippers.
The arms manufacturer BAE Systems, which produces a range of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) for war zones, is adapting the military-style planes for a consortium of government agencies led by Kent police, The Guardian reports.
Documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act revealed that the partnership intends to begin using the drones in time for the 2012 Olympics.
A prototype drone equipped with high-powered cameras and sensors is set to take to the skies for test flights later this year.
The Civil Aviation Authority, which regulates UK airspace, has been told by BAE and Kent police that civilian UAVs would "greatly extend" the government’s surveillance capacity and "revolutionise policing".
The CAA is currently reluctant to license UAVs in normal airspace because of the risk of collisions with other aircraft, but adequate "sense and avoid" systems for drones are only a few years away.
Kent police`s assistant chief constable, Allyn Thomas, said that interest in their use in the UK had "developed after the terrorist attack in Mumbai".
BAE drones are programmed to take off and land on their own, stay airborne for up to 15 hours and reach heights of 20,000 feet, making them invisible from the ground.
The surveillance data is fed back to control rooms via monitoring equipment such as high-definition cameras, radar devices and infrared sensors.
Military drones have been used extensively by the US to assist reconnaissance and airstrikes in Afghanistan and Iraq.
But their use in war zones has been blamed for high civilian death tolls.