The Malaysian government has approved a budget of $11.3 million (MYR 48 million) to allow its police department to purchase 16 vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) drones. The budget endorsement comes at a time when thousands of medics, who have played a key role in the country’s COVID-19 response, are protesting over low wages and job insecurity. As a result, many on social media are questioning the cost of these drones, pointing out that the New York Police Department was able to secure 14 drones for $480,000 (MYR 2 million) only in 2018.
The approval to Royal Malaysia Police (PDRM) to acquire the 16 drones has been granted under the 12th Malaysia Plan, which outlines the Southeast Asian country’s development from 2021-2025.
16 ‘high-powered’ drones
In a statement released to the media, PDRM explains that the budget ceiling is based on the current market price of drones that meet the police department’s technical requirements.
And what would these requirements be? According to the statement:
The drones to be procured are high-powered electric drones (powered by batteries) equipped with gyro-stabilized cameras (electro-optical/infrared) that can fly and record high-resolution visuals (photos, videos, and live-streaming) during daytime and nighttime. In addition, for each drone procured, the package includes a mobile ground station vehicle equipped with a turret tracking antenna system, a weather station, and a portable global navigation satellite system.
At present, the police department is using DJI Matrice 300 RTK drones with Zenmuse H20T cameras. These cost around $24,500 each.
The DJI M300 RTK drones have a flight time of up to 55 minutes. But reports suggest that PDRM is looking for aircraft that can stay airborne for at least four hours.
The plan is to deploy these 16 drones in border areas that are not fenced up. This will help to curb cross-border criminal activities such as human trafficking and smuggling.
Social media backlash in Malaysia
Nonetheless, many in Malysia feel that there are better uses for the money, including bolstering the healthcare system, which is under severe pressure. Others argue that the government can easily find cheaper drone alternatives for border surveillance, with one Twitter user quipping:
It’s like buying a Formula 1 car for the purpose of delivering mails.
How many hospital beds can that create?— emacro (@emacro) July 26, 2021
RM48M? That money should be used to buy bodycams for each Police Officer on duty. And car cams for each police car. Ianya dapat menjamin ketulusan setiap anggota dan meningkatkan kredibiliti PDRM. Drones? Bila hujan lebat, tak terbang lah jawapnya.— @azrilyp (@azrilyp) July 26, 2021
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